By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – It was back to the minor league fields Saturday as Taijuan Walker and Stephen Pryor pitched their first innings in games this spring. For Walker it was more of a re-start of his spring training that was derailed early by shoulder bursitis. In Pryor's case it was a return to the mound after losing nearly a year to a torn lat. Both were pleased with their outings.
"I was pumped," said Walker. "I was trying not to be. But I felt like I wasn't overthrowing or throw too hard."
Walker threw 15 pitches in the game and then 15 more in the bullpen after. He did not throw his curve, and his fastball clocked from 92-96 on the radar guns. He threw his changeup, which seemed to be a bit tougher to command than his fastball, but it did have good movement. The two hits he gave up – a double and a triple – were hit hard, but results of this outing were not measured in hits or runs for Walker.
"This one was more of a tester game to see how it felt," he said. "All that other stuff will come. I just walk away happy because my arm feels good."
Pryor followed and looked a little different from the Pryor who first took the mound at Safeco Field two years ago in his 1-2-3 inning. He is leaner and we have yet to see the velocity he had before the surgery. His fastball topped out at 93 mph and his location was decent. He threw his slider and changeup with mixed results.
"They weren't good but they were there," he said.
He might have been a little hard on himself there. I saw his first outing against live hitters earlier in camp and there were times when he was flat-out wild. This looked much better. The change and slider will have to be sharpened – without the 98 mph fastball that we saw from him before, he will need to rely more on those pitches to get outs. He is not worried about the velocity and feels that as his arm gets stronger his velocity could rise.
"I feel like I've got some work to do," he said. "Finishing touches and build up some arm strength a little more. I'm not quite where I want to be."
Pryor has not put any expectations on a return date. His arm and what his pitches are doing will determine that. The most important thing for him is that after a frustrating and lost year he finally feels normal.
"This is the first time my arm has felt right since I got hurt last year in April," he said. "It's something to build off of. I feel back to normal. I don't have to think of where my arm slot is or if this one is going to hurt or not."
A step in the right direction for both pitchers.