Walker, healthy and happy, excited to get started
PORT ST. LUCIE, FLA. >> Mets second baseman Neil Walker dealt with back issues for almost five years and said not a daywentbywhenhedidn’tfeel some kind of pain.
“I’d probably wake up every single morning and as soon as I’d throw my feet over the side of bed, I could tell whether it was going to be a good or bad day,” Walker said on Wednesday at the Mets’ training camp.
Walker now says he has no reasontotiptoearoundforfear of hurting his back after having surgery last September to repair a herniated disk.
“About three days after surgery when all the drugs were out of my system per se, that (morning) feeling was completely gone. Then it was just a matter of getting back on my feet and getting the strength back. It took about three months, but those feelings are all gone,” he said.
“I couldn’t be more excited about that,” he said.
The Mets are excited about the prospect of a fit Walker, who hit 23 home runs and battedateam-leading.282asareplacement for Daniel Murphy at second base.
Walker accepted the Mets’ one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer last November, making him the third-highest paid player in the organization behind Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright.
After a late-morning workout that saw Walker take grounders at second base — he will also play third and likely work out at first, and brought gloves for all three positions with him to camp — and swing without a hitch in batting practice, manager Terry Collins said he anticipates a big year from the 31-year-old.
“The way he played last year was brilliant, especially under the conditions he had to deal with,” Collins said. “One of the things that saved us is he hit sowellright-handedwiththat bad back. Now he feels great. I think he’s going to have a huge year.”
Walker gambled on himself ontheone-yeardeal,optingto play with a likely contender in the Mets rather than choosing to go west and play for some clubs that were rebuilding.
He stopped short of naming the teams that would have offered him lengthier contracts, but he said he had always played in the East and had endured some rough seasonswhilewiththePittsburgh Pirates.
“I wasn’t really excited about a lot of the (potential) landing spots,” Walker said. “I’m an East Coast guy and I’ve played on the East Coast my entire career. This made a lot of sense. There was a potential to go several places that were kind of in a rebuilding mode. Having been in Pittsburgh for a few 100-loss seasons,Iwantednopartofthat.”
“It could’ve ended up differently, but there was no telling. This was the right move,” he said.
Collins said Walker also has a strong presence in the clubhouse and stepped right in to a leadership role last season when Wright went down.
“I think leaders are leaders, and I think Neil Walker’s a leader.Eventhough,hey,itwas a new team, he’s one of those guyswho’sagoodplayer,plays hard and the guys all like him. You saw it last spring. Therefore,hedemandsalotfromhis teammates,” Collins said.
“When we lost the voice of David in there, we needed someone to step up. Neil was the guy,” he said. CLEARWATER, FLA. >> As the Phillies move into the third year of rebuilding, manager Pete Mackanin hopes to see Philadelphia finish with a winning record for the first time since a 102-victory season in 2011.
After back-to-back 89-loss seasons, the Phillies finished with a major league-high 99 defeats in 2015, then cut back to 91 losses last year. After the Phillies added veterans Clay Buchholz, Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders, Mackanin expects Philadelphia to be competitive on a nightly basis.
“I would like to see us playing .500 going deeper into the season and, at that point, you never know what can happen,” Mackanin said. “As a manager and as the captain of the ship, I’d like to go a little farther. I want to stay positive with my team because I think there’s a lot of room for improvement and just how well these guys improve and the guys that we have at the minor leagues, how well they improve to push the other guys, there’s no telling what can happen. But certainly, I think .500 is a relatively modest call for the leader of the team.”
As players shuffled through the hallways at newly renamed Spectrum Field, they were greeted by new signage at the 13-year-old ballpark.
The wall in the main lobby of the clubhouse floor is decorated with a large photo of Shane Victorino jumping onto the steep pile of players as the 2008 Phillies celebrated the World Series title. The hallway leading into the clubhouse honors championship teams, too, with photos of Ryan Howard and Tug McGraw raising their arms in celebration and both the 1980 and 2008 teams. Photos of pennant and division winners are on the walls, and the four man fields on the complex, named for Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts, have large photos of each respective player on a wall behind each backstop.
Philadelphia is without Howard and Carlos Ruiz, the last remaining members of the 2008 championship team.
“I think we’re in good shape,” Phillies president Andy MacPhail said of a team that has a bevy of major leaguecaliber prospects expected to start the year in Triple-A, a front office that’s kept the payroll flexible and an ownership group eager to spend. “Our expectation is that we’ll be better than we were a year ago and our expectation is that we’ll continue to introduce new talent onto our major league team not unlike we did last year.”
And finishing with a winning record?
“I’m focused not so much on a number,” MacPhail said. “I’d like to see improvement. That can demonstrate itself in a lot of ways. So I’m looking for improvement, measurable, meaningful improvement. That could just be in the number of players that look like they can be pieces for the future. I think that’s my goal for 2017.
“I actually was pretty happy with Pete and the things I was trying to get across from my level to both Pete and (general manager) Matt (Klentak). If you show energy, effort and enthusiasm, if you do those things and show them to our fans, they’re going to be a great deal more forgiving of what happens on the field. I think we got that by and large last year. I’m hoping we can maintain it and get it again this year.”
Mets second baseman Neil Walker hits during a spring training baseball workout Wednesday in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Pete Mackanin improved the Phillies’ win total from 63to 71in his second season, and is hoping to finish above .500 this year.