Taijuan Walker steps up for Mets rotation, All-Star candidate strong in 7-4 win over Reds – The Mercury News

CINCINNATI – On the eve of Max Scherzer’s triumphant return to the Mets rotation, Taijuan Walker offered a reminder that he was quietly the Mets starter who stepped up in the ace’s seven-week absence.

Walker has posted a 2.59 ERA in the nine starts and 55.2 innings since Scherzer went on the injured list, including six quality starts in that span. His dominant 97-pitch outing on Monday helped lead the Mets to a 7-4 win over the Reds in the series opener at Great American Ballpark.

Scherzer has a 2.54 ERA in eight starts for the Mets this season. When he sustained an oblique strain, the familiar doom-and-gloom attitude briefly returned to the Flushing faithful. But Walker made sure those somber feelings didn’t last.

As much as Walker’s results were paramount – like his nine strikeouts against the Reds on Monday – his health was just as important. He consistently took the mound every fifth day in that troublesome stretch where the Mets rotation was forced to weather the storm without their co-aces in Scherzer and Jacob deGrom.

Walker has so far recorded a first half (7-2, 2.86 ERA) that is nearly identical to the All-Star first half that he enjoyed last season (7-3, 2.66 ERA). The right-hander is making a convincing case for a second career All-Star nod. His ERA is top eight in the National League.

The only blemish in his 14th start Monday was a three-run home run to former Met Brandon Drury, who has an .864 OPS, 17 homers and has been on fire for the Reds. After Drury’s third-inning home run that tied the game at 3-3, Walker bounced back and retired 10 of his final 12 batters. He earned his seventh win of the season, thanks in part to run support from his offense.

Hunter Greene is the hardest throwing starter in MLB right now. (Greene probably has just under a month left to hold that title before Jacob deGrom comes off the injured list and inevitably dethrones him.) Greene didn’t really let it rip until the fifth inning, though, when he turned up the dial on his fastball velocity against the top of the Mets order.

Francisco Lindor fouled off a couple of Greene’s high heaters before connecting on a 100-mph fastball and sending it to the right-field seats in a hurry. Lindor’s solo shot down the first-base line was his 13th home run of the year. The decisive blow broke the 3-3 tied game and gave the Mets the lead.

Dominic Smith, hitting eighth as the designated hitter, added on in the sixth inning. Though Smith is still waiting for his first home run of the season (his last his was actually at Cincinnati on July 21), he made an impact with extra bases instead. Smith is 4-for-9 since he was called up from Triple-A Syracuse late last month, with three of those four hits falling as doubles.

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