Until last night, the fact that Taijuan Walker was scratched from his Arizona Fall League on Friday start went almost completely unnoticed by Mariners fans. You'd think there would have been a bit more of a freakout after Walker's injury history, but as the news came down late Friday afternoon, and we all headed off into the weekend, most of us completely missed it.
Well, the news came late last night on why Walker missed that start. He decided to go home. Here's a statement on it from General Manager Jack Zduriencik:
"Taijuan is completely healthy and was very impressive in his two outings, but made a personal decision that he needed to return home at this time. He will continue with his offseason program and we look forward to seeing him at Spring Training in February."
Walker had looked very good in his two AFL starts, allowing two runs and seven hits with two walks and 11 strikeouts in nine innings. Also, topping out at 98mph, only one pitcher—starter or reliever—had thrown a faster pitch in the fall season's early goings. Given the last note here, and just that it'd be weird to lie about it, I think it's perfectly reasonable trust Jack's word when it comes to Walker's health.
When I first saw the news on Twitter, and that it was vaguely being called a "personal decision" I said these types of things cause your ears to perk up, even if it is probably nothing, and then made an irresponsible and soon-to-be-deleted tweet noting that Tai had a 2:00am tweet referencing a song about clubbing 13 hours before he was scratched. Given the most recent story in Seattle referencing some kind of "personal issue" absence, I wondered if there was something more to it, a behavioral issue.
Upon further investigation, I'm sure there is something more to it, and I'm sure it's really none of our business. First off, players go out, and players have some fun—especially when down in Arizona during the off-season, where there really aren't any official coaches and the attitude is much more lax. There isn't anything wrong with it. Second, we don't know if he even did that—and it'd be wrong to assume he did. Third, I'd bank on this being completely irrelevant.
Taijuan decided to he wanted go home, and he did. He was supposed to log roughly 25 or 30 innings, and he finished with nine. Are those extra two or three starts going to make all that much of a difference heading into 2015? It would've been a nice luxury to build Walker's base of work up a little bit further, but I don't think so.
After all, James Paxton's 2014 wasn't all too dissimilar from Walker's and he's not pitching at all this off-season. I could've swore I saw someplace that was his decision, similar to Walker's to leave, but I can't seem to find it. Even if it wasn't, they head into 2015 in a similar boat. Walker threw 134 innings in 2014 and Paxton finished with just 86. The circumstances and respective performances are different, but if Paxton can survive without building his innings up, Walker surely can as well.
Given what's happened recently with this organization, people are bound to wonder if there's something more to the story and form elaborate theories assigning general malfeasance to either the organization or Walker. Well, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as Freud actually did not say.
Odds are there is something more to it, as that's how it's described—but it's described as "personal" for a reason and it's probably wise to leave it at that. I hope everything's alright with Walker, and whether it's just homesickness or something more, this break from ball should serve him well. I think it's safe to say we all just want him feeling well heading into 2015, and look forward to seeing what he can do in a full season.