Right-hander Taijuan Walker had been a sort of safety-net-in-waiting this season for the Diamondbacks, a potentially valuable rotation piece whose steady recovery from Tommy John surgery gave them peace of mind about the state of their starting pitching.
All of that changed this week. Walker left his rehab start on Wednesday at Salt River Fields with right shoulder discomfort. He was diagnosed with a capsule sprain and received a platelet-rich plasma injection, manager Torey Lovullo said. Walker will not throw again for six weeks, a delay that likely pushes his return from the injured list back to August at the earliest.
Though it doesn’t immediately impact the club’s current rotation situation, Walker’s injury is the latest issue to arise in what has been a somewhat fluid area of the Diamondbacks’ roster.
For now, the news appears good with right-hander Zack Greinke, who left his start on Wednesday with abdominal tightness. An MRI came back “clean,” Lovullo said, and Greinke could still make his next scheduled start.
The other spot in question is the one that used to belong unquestionably to Zack Godley but has been in flux the past two turns. As it turns out, that spot still seems to be Godley’s, in a sense.
The Diamondbacks entered Friday night’s game hopeful that they could avoid using Godley out of the bullpen, thus keeping him available to start on Saturday. And General Manager Mike Hazen called Godley the club’s “ideal” choice to reclaim the spot full-time.
“Long-term,” Hazen said, “(our plan) would be that we get Zack back pitching the way he has and is capable and he takes that back over.”
Lovullo said this week he feels good about the progress Godley has made since he was removed from the rotation earlier this month, namely his ability to keep his delivery under control and to effectively mix in other pitches beyond his curveball. Hazen mentioned Godley’s improved strike-throwing. If Godley were to start on Saturday, neither Lovullo nor Hazen would say whether he would be used as an opener.
One consolation to Godley’s struggles in April seemed to be the progress Walker was making from his April 2018 elbow surgery. Throughout spring training and the first month-plus of the season, Walker was pointing toward a June return, meaning the Diamondbacks only had to figure out Godley’s rotation spot for the next month before they could, in theory, hand it over to a proven big-league starter.
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Instead, Walker’s injury will put increased pressure not only on Godley getting his issues sorted out, but on the club’s unproven young arms – namely, Triple-A Reno right-handers Jon Duplantier and Taylor Clarke – remaining both healthy and effective if and when they are called upon again this season.
It also has prompted Hazen to start thinking about potential reinforcements. Since the Diamondbacks won’t be certain about Walker’s health by the time the trade deadline rolls around in late July, he said the club probably would “look to add” to its starting pitching reserves, assuming it manages to remain in contention. He said adding starters is likely even if Duplantier and/or Clarke wind up with permanent rotation spots.
“Once you start inserting them into the rotation, then you’re now that much thinner underneath,” Hazen said. “From any point of time, to expect to get through the rest of the season with five or six or seven starting pitchers — I think it’s probably foolish to think that way.”
Hazen also did not rule out a run at free-agent left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who is only a few weeks away from being unburdened by draft-pick compensation. The former Cy Young winner reportedly has maintained a high price tag throughout the winter and spring and into the season.
“We’re going to look at starting pitching now, I would imagine, as we move forward,” Hazen said in response to a question about Keuchel. “We’ll see how we get through this next brief period of time. And then I’m sure we’ll be looking at all options of starting pitching.”
Lovullo said that before deciding on a PRP injection – a shot that’s done to stimulate healing — Walker received opinions on his shoulder from team physician Dr. Gary Waslewski in addition to three others physicians: James Andrews, David Altchek and Keith Meister.
“Really unfortunate for him,” Lovullo said. “He’s been working his tail off to get back here. This is just a bump in the road for him, I know, and I know he’s going to work hard to make good things happen as soon as he can.”
Greinke is scheduled to throw a bullpen on Saturday. Assuming that goes well – Hazen said the club is anticipating it will – then Greinke would be in line to start Tuesday in San Diego.
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