Ryan Walker

Walker carving out role as reliable option in Giants' bullpen

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Ryan Walker wasn't on many people's radar before the 2023 MLB season but has established himself as one of the more reliable and lethal weapons in the Giants' bullpen.

Lefty Scott Alexander will take the mound Thursday as the opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a role that he and Walker have thrived in all season.

After starting Saturday's game and pitching 2 2/3 innings as the opener, Walker appeared in a more traditional role Tuesday, pitching 2 1/3 innings in relief of an under-the-weather Alex Cobb in the Giants' 4-3 win over Arizona.

In speaking to reporters before Thursday's game, Giants manager Gabe Kapler would not reveal the plan for the bullpen after Alexander departs but was very complimentary of Walker, whose versatility -- and most importantly -- ability on the mound, make him a lethal option in any scenario.

"He's got great stuff, he's super deceptive," Kapler said of Walker. "He steps across his body and looks like he's moving in the direction of third base and then crossfires. As a hitter, it's really hard to pick up the ball and in particular it's hard for right-handed hitters to pick up the ball, but he's been successful against lefties, he's got a horizontal movement on his slider and that slider's going to chase left-handed hitters.

"I think the only time he's been hurt is when he left the slider in the middle of the plate from time to time. A pitch that kind of sits and spins there sometimes can be susceptible to damage, we see some guys take some big swings on that pitch, but otherwise, he's been as good as we could have possibly imagined."

Since his promotion on May 19, Walker has been one of the best Giants relievers. In 26 appearances, the rookie has a 2.35 ERA across 38 1/3 innings pitched with 41 strikeouts and nine walks.

Originally drafted by San Francisco in the 31st round of the 2018 draft, Walker was nowhere to be found on most Giants top prospect lists. However, that hasn't prevented him from earning a featured role in Kapler's bullpen.

"I always have a ton of confidence, and the first thing I'll point to, is all of these guys, if you step foot onto a major league field you have a ton of talent so that can always emerge," Kapler explained. "You have players with lots of pedigrees as first-round picks and high on all of the prospect ranking lists and then you have guys who have just really performed at the minor league level.

"And then once you get here, these guys are all capable of what Ryan Walker is doing. But at this point, it's fair to say he's exceeded expectations because he's been that good."

The Giants are 14-5 in bullpen games this season thanks, in large part, to the job Walker has done setting the table and pitching in long relief.

The 27-year-old is well on his way to earning a permanent spot on the roster for years to come.

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