Arizona Diamondbacks: Christian Walker Capitalizes on Big Chance

Arizona Diamondbacks v Atlanta Braves ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 16: Christian Walker #53 of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrates with teammates after hitting a home run in the ninth inning of an MLB game against the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on April 16, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. All players are wearing number 42 to honor Jackie Robinson. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker has been patiently waiting for his big chance. When he first came up with the Baltimore Orioles, he was playing behind All-Star Chris Davis.  When he arrived in Arizona, he was playing behind franchise icon Paul Goldschmidt. After Goldy was shipped to St. Louis in a December trade, one would think that would have given Walker his shot. Nope. Slugger Jake Lamb moved from third to first and earned the starting job. Walker kept at it, though, trying to take advantage of every opportunity he was given. Then, on Wednesday, April 3, the Diamondbacks received some bad news. Lamb had strained his quad and would miss six weeks.

Arizona Diamondbacks’ Christian Walker Capitalizes on Big Chance

Fortunately, they had Walker ready and waiting in the wings, but it didn’t start well for Walker. In the first eight games he played following Lamb’s injury, he went 2 for 24 with a double and no RBI. His average over that span was .083 and dropped his season average from .368 to .209.

However, on Sunday, April 14 against the San Diego Padres, Walker went 3 for 4 with a double, a home run, and one RBI. It led to an 8-4 victory that snapped a four-game skid. Then, after an off-day to travel cross-country, Walker came through again against the Atlanta Braves. In Tuesday night’s come-from-behind 9-6 victory for Arizona, he had another three-hit effort. Two of those were huge. One was a game-tying single with the bases loaded in the seventh. The other was a solo home run to left-center that gave the Diamondbacks a 7-6 lead they did not relinquish. It capped an evening where Walker went 3 for 4 with a walk, a homer, two runs scored, and two RBI.

Patience, Patience, Patience

Walker’s professional career has been one that would test the patience of most people. After making his way through the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system, he arrived in the majors in September 2014. His first major league at-bat came against J.A. Happ of the Toronto Blue Jays. Walker struck out, but two at-bats later, he lined a double to left that chased Happ from the game. However, his playing time was very limited, since he was playing behind Davis.

After he spent parts of 2014 and 2015 in the majors, he went back to AAA for all of 2016. He had a decent season for the Norfolk Tides, batting .264 (133 for 504) with 29 doubles, 18 home runs, 64 RBI, and 64 runs scored. However, it wasn’t good enough for the Orioles to call him back up. His time with Baltimore ended in early 2017 as the Atlanta Braves picked him up off waivers. Nine days later, the Cincinnati Reds claimed him off waivers. His stint on Cincinnati’s roster did not last long, either, as he went on waivers again three weeks later. The Diamondbacks claimed him. However, as mentioned earlier, Goldschmidt was the mainstay at first, and Walker had to go to AAA again.

Walker Has an Ace of a Season

While with the Reno Aces, he shone. In 2017, he batted .309 (159 for 514) in 133 games with 34 doubles, nine triples, 32 home runs, 114 RBI, and 104 runs scored. His efforts earned him the Pacific Coast League MVP award. However, in 2018, due to being behind Goldschmidt, he still had to split time between the minors and majors. He spent more time in the majors than he did in 2014 and 2015 combined, but it was still only 37 games. In his limited opportunities, he went .163/.226/.338 with only eight hits. Five of the eight were for extra bases – two doubles and three home runs – but that average could not be ignored. He went back to Reno, where he had another fairly good season — .299/.354/.568 with 25 doubles, four triples, 18 home runs, 71 RBI, and 68 runs scored in 84 games.

Taking Advantage

Now that Goldschmidt is a St. Louis Cardinal and Lamb is on the injured list, Walker has made a push to stay in the lineup. If he turns his recent performance into a habit, manager Torey Lovullo will have some tough lineup decisions to make when Lamb returns next month. This is a good problem to have, and one that Lovullo will be pleased about.

Players who come off the bench are often encouraged by their coaches not to get discouraged. “When you get an opportunity to come through, do it,” they’re told, “and you’ll get more. If you do that a few times, you’ll force me to find a place for you in the lineup.” It looks like Walker is taking that advice.

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