Taijuan Walker hopes to calm nerves as Diamondbacks' Game 1 starter vs. Dodgers

LOS ANGELES — Taijuan Walker got so nervous during the Arizona Diamondbacks’ riveting 11-8 victory in the National League wild card game Wednesday, he left the dugout for the comforts of the clubhouse where he could pace and watch the game on TV.

He won’t have that luxury Friday, at least while the Diamondbacks are on the field.

The 25-year-old right-hander was picked to start Game 1 of the NL Division Series by manager Torey Lovullo, who plans to give the ball to staff ace Zack Greinke for Game 3 and is leaning toward going with Robbie Ray in Game 2 on Saturday, although he wouldn’t commit to that.

The rotation reshuffling for the series against the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers was prompted by Lovullo’s need to call on Ray for 2⅓ innings of relief to beat the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday. The game turned into a tense affair when the Rockies sliced a 6-0 deficit to one run and kept on coming.

"I was in the clubhouse because I couldn’t really handle it," Walker said of the suspenseful moments before reliever Archie Bradley hit a two-run triple in the seventh.

Walker, who fashioned a 3.49 ERA in 28 starts in his best season in the majors, acknowledged at times he could not bear to watch, even on TV. So how is he going to control his emotions when making his first playoff start, and close to family and friends to boot?

It was not lost on Walker that the New York Yankees’ Luis Severino and the Rockies’ Jon Gray, both making their postseason debuts, fell victims to the moment and were hammered. Neither one lasted more than 1⅓ innings.

"I think you can’t go out there and let the adrenaline really get to you," said Walker, who grew up in Southern California. "You have to take a deep breath every pitch and really focus on each pitch."

In explaining the decision to choose Walker over Patrick Corbin and Zack Godley, Lovullo pointed out his strong performance against the Dodgers this season. In three starts, Walker went 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA.

Greinke will be pitching on regular rest Monday at Chase Field, where he had a 13-1 record this season. Ray is a different story. After throwing 34 pitches Wednesday, he would be going on two days of rest if he took the mound for Game 2, although Ray said he felt Thursday as if he were coming off a day when he threw a between-starts bullpen session.

Ray could be the series’ biggest trump card because of his success this season against the Dodgers, which prompted their manager, Dave Roberts, to acknowledge, "We really haven’t cracked the code on Robbie Ray."

The fourth-year left-hander went 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA in five starts vs. the Dodgers, with 53 strikeouts in 31⅔ innings. If he started Saturday, Ray would be available to come back for Game 5 on full rest if the series went that far.

"Obviously I want the ball," he said. "If you didn’t want the ball, you shouldn’t be here. But that’s a decision they have to make."

Lovullo and the Diamondbacks brass are not ready to make it yet, preferring to wait until Ray throws on the side to see how he feels.

"He’s been an elite pitcher all year long, so we’re certainly leaning in the direction of putting Robbie out there as quickly as possible," Lovullo said. "But we’re going to make sure he’s OK first."

Wood in Game 4: Roberts confirmed that left-hander Alex Wood would start a possible Game 4, and he was emphatic that Clayton Kershaw would not be brought back on short rest if the Dodgers trailed in the series at that point.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner started on three-days rest twice in last year’s playoffs, in addition to making a relief appearance in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals two days after his Game 4 start.

"It’s set in stone," Roberts said of the choice to go with Wood, who earned All-Star honors as he went 16-3 with a 2.72 ERA. "When you acquire a guy like Yu Darvish (the Game 3 starter) and you have Alex Wood have the season that he’s had, that’s why you do things like that."

Roberts would not discard the possibility of using Kershaw on short rest later in the postseason.

Follow Jorge L. Ortiz on Twitter @jorgelortiz.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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