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Taijuan Walker may return, as Cristopher Sanchez looks solid in Phils’ win

PHILADELPHIA — There will be some clubhouse buzz this week because the Phillies might finally become whole with their pitching rotation.

Taijuan Walker, originally expected to regain his form through a kind of second spring training as he returns from a “right shoulder impingement” injury, has proclaimed himself fit for action for the first time this season.

Walker came off a longish rehabilitation stint Tuesday night for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Moosic against Yankees affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. According to Phils manager Rob Thomson, his would-be No. 4 rotation guy “threw 78 pitches, 90-92 (mph).

“He was around the zone for the most part,” Thomson said. “We’re going to wait and see. He’s going to throw a bullpen Friday and then we’ll figure out the next step.”

Asked why he thought Walker’s original recovery timetable could be moved up by at least a week, Thomson said it was because, “he’s feeling really good.”

While that possibility raises questions about the impact a Walker return could have, projected No. 5 starter Cristopher Sanchez made some noise of his own Wednesday night by keeping the Colorado Rockies bats’ relatively silent over a six-inning stint, helping the Phillies to a 7-6 victory and sweep of the series at Citizens Bank Park.

Sanchez limited the Rockies to five hits and only an unearned run over his six innings, striking out 10 Colorado batters and walking but one in a 97-pitch stint.

“(Sanchez) was great tonight,” Thomson said afterward. “Throwing strikes, locating his fastball, back of the plate sliders that they were swinging through, great change-up they were swinging through – a lot of swing and miss. Great poise, he really pitched well.”

Usually on the down-low with his self-assessments, Sanchez essentially agreed with the manager this time.

“I was sticking early with the sinker; my slider was good and my change-up was good as well,” Sanchez said. “That’s why I think it worked. I felt sharper in this outing; it’s because I keep working with all my pitches and I keep working on attacking the hitters early.”

Sanchez’s growth this young season, along with a terrific start by Ranger Suarez has shown the Phillies to believe in the middle of their rotation, which along with top starters Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola now borders on rock solid. And that’s with Walker yet to join the mix.

As far as the offense goes, though … well, all went well on this night. Kyle Schwarber homered twice, Trea Turner homered, too, among three hits. And even No. 9 hitter Johan Rojas had a pair of hits.

“We were swinging the bats,” Thomson said. “We had a few opposite field hits, too, which tells me they’re staying on the baseball. We drove the ball in the gaps, down the line, it was a good night offensively.”

The offense was just good enough to make up for the five-run, three-hit lacking performance by Gregory Soto which almost sunk an early 7-1 Phillies lead.

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Walker would have to pick up the pace a bit over what he did against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, aiming to get closer to the mid-90s in velocity as opposed to the 90 or 91 range.

“Yeah, we’ll see,” Thomson said. “You take the intensity of a big league ballpark, big league hitters, it naturally goes up a little bit. It’s more about the shape of the stuff, the ability to throw strikes, that type of thing.”

While Walker would likely assume his rotation spot and send Spencer Turnbull to the long relief role he was intended to be, Thomson speculated Walker could rejoin the staff initially as maybe a piggyback starter or even a regular in a six-man rotation, which would nonetheless be more likely later in the season.

• • •

After an oh-for-four, two strikeout collar, Nick Castellanos’ batting average dipped to .159. He doesn’t have an extra-base hit this season.

Castellanos is only member of the four-man outfielder crew to have played all 19 Phillies games. Newcover Whit Merrifield had only played 10 games going into Wednesday’s series finale with the Rockies.

Perhaps, then, it was time for a Castellanos breather?

“I’ve considered it,” Thomson said. “Everybody’s a little bit different. Being an experienced guy he’s been through this before. When you start the season, this it’s really magnified. You go through something like this in July, it’s not as magnified. So I check in with him every day, making sure he’s OK mentally and emotionally and he is, and he feels like he can grind through it.”

Along with Castellanos, other Phillies to have played 19 games are designated hitter Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott. Stott had two games in which he didn’t start but appeared as a pinch-hitter, Bohm one.

But as for Castellanos, this might not be much different than other slumps he’s experienced.

“I think he’s just jumping (at the ball), he’s just getting off balance,” Thomson diagnosed. “I just think that’s where he gets sometimes. His head starts moving toward the mound, it speeds up the ball, takes your eyes off the ball. … But we’ll see how the bullpen goes and how he feels.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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