In 2015, Marcus Walden was on the brink of letting his dreams of becoming a Major Leaguer die while pitching in Independent League ball. Walden had called his wife and told her that if she wanted him to come home, go to school and essentially end everything that he’d worked, he would do it. She told him no, as described by Walden in this video by MassLive.
And that’s what kept Marcus Walden from retiring from baseball. Instead, he continued to pursue the big stage in the majors where he would eventually land. And that landing spot where he would finally get a real chance was with the Boston Red Sox.
Being brought on ahead of the 2018 season, Walden was added to the Red Sox Opening Day roster. However, he didn’t make it that far. After giving up six earned runs in the month of April and getting just one outing in May, Walden was sent back down to the minors where he’d spent a majority of his adult life. And that would be Walden’s final shot at the majors, at least for last season.
He didn’t have the same luck this year in regards to landing an Opening Day roster spot. He wasn’t added to the list of guys who would be headed out to Seattle for that grueling road trip to open up their defense of the World Series throne. But after a less than ideal start to the season by Boston, Walden once again got the call and would make his first appearance on April 7th in Arizona.
To backtrack slightly, Walden isn’t a young buck that fans might have watched gradually climb through the minor league system as they did with Michael Chavis. Being a fresh face to the organization for the most part–because most don’t remember a minor league pitcher who had a brief stint with the team in 2018–there are those who thought that he might have been a prospect who is seeing some early success. Well, one of the Red Sox secret weapons through May 12th, 2019, isn’t even in his 20s. Walden is a 30-year-old career minor leaguer who is tasting his first bit of success with a team at the major league level.
As mentioned in countless blog posts and columns written throughout Boston, the Red Sox glaring deficiency entering the season was the bullpen. With no *true* closer, little to no depth, and a truckload of question marks, the team was looking for help in any facet that they could get it. And enters Marcus Walden.
Not being named to the Major League roster is a puzzling notion if you’ve been paying attention to the way that he’s hurled the baseball this season. While Alex Cora and probably most didn’t see this coming, Walden has been an unbelievable weapon entering from the ‘pen that gives you a sense of relief in knowing that he can hold a lead no matter what it may be.
With the team electing to roll with this, “closer by committee” strategy–and the committee being Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier–that leaves the middle innings vulnerable to an opposition’s offensive explosion. Through their 2018 World Series campaign, things fell into place with their then closer Craig Kimbrel rounding things out in the ninth and Brasier and Barnes keeping teams at bay in the seventh and eighth innings. With the absence of one of the greatest closers in major league history–and that’s true, look it up–you’re now forced to take your other two reliable arms and slide them back. And this is where Marcus Walden has filled the void left by that move flawlessly.
What confuses me about Walden’s career is that he was never given a real shot. And I won’t sit here and act like I’ve followed this guy through the minors. But just looking at his numbers as they stand, there were a few hiccups, but nothing that would warrant never giving him a legitimate opportunity.
Regardless, what Walden has done for the Red Sox is invaluable.
Truth be told, nobody knew what you were going to get out of Walden once he was given this next opportunity. But he’s dazzled since being back in the majors.
Since making his 2019 debut for another crack at a rookie season–yes, a 30-year-old rookie–he’s allowed a total of four earned runs through 14 appearances.
His first month of the season is what really caught everyone’s eye who has been paying attention. Through April, he had just one hiccup and, of all teams, that came against one of the worst clubs in the game today, the Baltimore Orioles. In 2.0 IP, the Orioles tacked three earned on the 6’0″ right-hander. That outing did trigger a slight cause for concern, at least in my mind. And that’s because we saw this occurrence last year which eventually lead to his demotion. But since then he has been as steady as you can be.
Now sitting on 14 outings and 22.1 IP, Walden’s proved to manager Alex Cora that he can be the perfect long relief option if the team needs just that. Six of his relief appearances this season have stretched more than one inning making his value to the roster increase exponentially. Especially due to the fact that one of their other long relief arms, Brian Johnson, still remains on the IL.
Cora acknowledged in a video posted by NESN, that Walden has “…been outstanding in different roles”.
His slider this season has been absolutely devastating and fun to watch. And it’s been a major component to his impressive numbers to start the year.
Through May 12th, Walden’s ERA has lowered to 1.61 accompanied by a 0.76 WHIP and a .152 opponents’ batting average. Not to mention, he leads the Red Sox in wins (5) and is tied for fifth in the American League in that same category.
One of the most underappreciated aspects of the Red Sox 2018 World Series run was Ryan Brasier. For a bullpen that was so heavily criticized as they were, they needed somebody else to step in and add to the little depth that they had. And that’s what Brasier did for them. It’s come much earlier in the year this season, but Walden is becoming that same secret weapon that the Red Sox didn’t necessarily even know they had sitting down in Pawtucket.
Now maybe they did know that there was some untapped potential in that 30-year-old’s arm that they could pull out of him. But being that Walden was that age and still had not seen much time at the Major League level, a large portion of me doubts that.
Marcus Walden. The rookie sensation has become one of the most valuable parts of the Red Sox 2019 title defense thus far. Does he remain this hot? For the Red Sox sake, I sure hope so. Because having someone who can consistently eat up two to three innings on a night is so immensely invaluable. And he’s a key to keeping this stretch of success that the Red Sox are currently seeing alive.
He was drafted in 2007, but after a painfully long grind and 12 years later, Walden’s officially become a key cog on a major league roster. And that’s why in 2015, his wife wouldn’t allow him to give up the dream he had been chasing for so long.
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