Taijuan Walker has not been good in the first inning of his starts pretty much all season.

In 23 and two thirds, he’s allowed 18 earned runs for a 6.84 ERA.

Usually, after that, Walker battles through, competes hard, and pitches well-enough to keep the Phillies in the game and ultimately win most of them. Heck, he came into his start Saturday as the N.L. leader in wins. And why not? In every other inning combined this season, not including the first, Walker has a 3.17 ERA.

It was a pattern the Phillies didn’t find ideal, but trusted Walker enough for most of the season to live with, since he is uber-competitive and doesn’t get blown out of games and ultimately stabilizes and gives them a chance to win, which they do, more often than not. The Phillies are 17-7 this season in the 24 games Walker has started.

However, the pattern has become less reliable in his last few starts, and it hit a point Saturday where the team realized it’s no longer sustainable and something needs to be done.

In his previous two starts before Saturday, Walker was having trouble throwing his fastball with any velocity early in the game. It seemed to come eventually. Usually by the third inning, or so, Walker was getting back up to his expected 94-95 MPH.

But on Saturday, the fastball was topping out at 90 MPH and it just stayed there. Walker became far more reliant on his breaking stuff, and, well, at the major league level, that’s not going to fly.

He only allowed three runs in five innings in what was eventually an ugly, 8-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins, but in those five innings he had six walks and a hit batter. So, when the control goes as well as the velocity, it’s no longer viable to keep doing what you are doing.

“I kind of got lucky with the six walks that only one of them scored,” Walker said. “I think my last couple of starts kind of showed that I’m off-speed heavy right now, so it just seemed like they were sitting on that stuff… It’s frustrating because right now I feel like I’m not at my best. I’m getting by, but to not be at my best at this time when the offense is rolling, and the defense is playing really good… I just want to be out there helping the team.”

Walker may have to wait a bit for that opportunity to help them.

According to manager Rob Thomson, Walker won’t make his next scheduled start when he was supposed to make it – which was next Sunday in Williamsport for the Little League Classic against the Nationals.

That means Walker will have at least eight days off between starts and very likely could have that stretched even further.

Thomson wouldn’t say when the next start would be but did map out the rotation through August 20:

There are obviously two off days in there as well as the Phillies play only five games next week following the conclusion of the 10-game homestand on Sunday.

Beyond that is a series with the San Francisco Giants, a team who is the Phillies’ closest competitor at the moment for the top Wild Card spot (2 1/2 GB), and a team who has a tiebreaker edge. As such, it’s hard to imagine, although it’s possible, that the Phillies would want to break up the above rotation against the Giants when it currently lines up to have Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Michael Lorenzen throw.

On Saturday, Thomson mentioned Cristopher Sanchez will get one more start and then the team will see where things are at once they reach their next off day after next week, which would be on Aug. 24th, the day after the Giants series.

Sanchez’s spot in the rotation would be due up that next game, which would be Friday, Aug. 25 against St. Louis. It seems more likely that the Phillies would revert back to their 5-man rotation at that point, and that would be the perfect time to slot Walker back in, in place of Sanchez.

If that’s the case, Walker will have had 12 days of rest, which the team hopes will re-liven what they just assume is a dead arm.

“I think maybe it’s just that time of year,” Thomson said. “He’s been grinding pretty hard so we’re going to look at getting him some extra rest before his next start. We haven’t worked it out yet, but that’s probably the prudent thing to do.”

Other Notes from Saturday’s loss:

  • Nick Castellanos had two hits to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. He’s hitting .339 during that streak.
  • Trea Turner extended his hitting streak to nine games with a three-hit performance. Turner has 16 hits in those nine games and is hitting .457. He’s been able to raise his batting average back to .252, the highest it’s been since July 1st, and his OPS is now up to .703, the highest it’s been since May 17.
  • Rodolfo Castro was credited with his first hit as a Phillie, although it should have been scored an error. He is now officially 1-for-16 (.063) since being acquired from the Pirates at the trade deadline.
  • The Phillies were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position in the game.
  • The Phillies left nine men on base. Kyle Schwarber (0-for-5) left five on base while Bryson Stott (0-for-4) left three on base. Alec Bohm was also 0-for-4 in the game, which is a pretty good indicator, when you combine the three of them, as to why the offense struggled.
  • Bryce Harper returned to the lineup after missing Friday’s game with back spasms. Harper DH’d, and there’s a chance he will again Sunday as the Phillies try to ensure that whatever caused that muscle spasm isn’t exacerbated by being on his feet on the field. Harper went 1-for-4.
  • Gregory Soto had a terrible relief appearance, giving up three hits and a walk in the span of the five batters he faced. He was tagged for four earned runs in just 1/3 of an inning.
  • Yunior Marte continues to be leaky. He pitched an 1 2/3, and although he only allowed one run, he gave up three hits and allowed two inherited runners to score. There’s a lot to like about Marte, but he still seems to be too much of a project for a contending team. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is sent back down and Andrew Bellatti is recalled.
  • Cristian Pache played a full nine innings in centerfield in a rehab game for Lehigh Valley Saturday. He went 1-for-5. He will play one more rehab game Sunday and then the expectation is, assuming all is well, that he will rejoin the Phillies for the road trip Tuesday.