When Taijuan Walker makes his return to the Citi Field mound on Thursday, he doesn’t know how to feel. At this point, he’s still preparing for any start: studying, digesting film and watching how the Mets, for whom he played in 2021 and 2022, have approached past games.
But there will likely be an underlying emotional tug of war, reminiscent of what he has accomplished with the organization.
Walker, who signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Phillies in December, told The Post on Tuesday that he was interested in returning to the Mets.
He was comfortable with the team, and his results reflect that.
“We really didn’t have a lot of communication, and the Phillies showed interest from the beginning and they really wanted me,” said Walker, who had a 4-2 record and 5.57 ERA in 2023. “For a team to really want you and play really hard for you, it makes you feel good as a player.”
That doesn’t mean Walker bears a grudge against the Mets.
The industry business and the new deal worked in his favor: Walker has no opt-out or option years, providing stability that the 30-year-old didn’t need earlier in his career – when he was non-tendered. He was signed by the Diamondbacks in 2019 and a free agent again after his 2020 season with the Mariners and Blue Jays.
“It was hard for me to even get the Mets deal,” Walker said before the Mets’ 4–1 win on Wednesday night. “To close out the four-year deal, all the work and stuff I’ve done, it feels good.”
With the Mets, Walker went 19–16 with a 3.98 ERA, and made his lone All-Star Game appearance in 2021 as a replacement.
He said that since joining the Phillies, Walker has thrown more of his splitter, which the staff wanted after pointing it out as his top pitch.
He will be the focal point of the pitching selection against the Mets on Thursday, when he becomes the latest pitcher to return to Citi Field. Phillies teammate Zack Wheeler faced a similar start to 2020 (though there were no fans due to the pandemic), and everyone approaches those reunions differently — “The way I treated it He was a little different than he is now,” Wheeler told the Post.
“I still want to pitch very well against [the Mets], just because,” Wheeler said. “But at the same time, it doesn’t have that level of excitement, I guess? It’s just another start, but you still want to pitch very well.”
Walker thinks he’ll be “a little excited” when he takes the mound on Thursday. Wheeler knows from experience that Walker will also want to follow up with a strong outing.
“But at the end of the day, I can’t get too high,” Walker told the Post. “I can’t settle for too little. I have to win a ballgame.