Colorado Rockies infielder Brendan Rodgers shot a 104 mph line down the right side of the Arizona Diamondbacks infield with a runner in second as he lost 1-0 in sixth inning on July 10.
D-backs first baseman Christian Walker dove to his left and caught the baseball to stop the run from scoring at Chase Field.
The web gem was among a growing number of highlights in a career defensive season for Walker, who entered Monday with 13 defensive points saved, the most by a first baseman this year, according to FanGraphs.
— Bally Sports Arizona (@BALLYSPORTSAZ) July 10, 2022
His previous career high was nine in 2019.
Walker’s preparation has evolved to cover any ball hit at real-time speed. Hand-eye coordination and glove accuracy are a few of his areas of interest, which came into play during this dive catch and snag:
“Getting the reps but fast reps, game-speed reps, intense,” Walker said. “Even though I feel like there’s an angle where I can take ground balls for a little while and I get tired and out of breath, those reps are the ones that are important because it’s is the feeling in the game when the heart rate is up.
“You try to slow down the moment. I think the key for me is fast, intense, intention-filled rehearsals.
Walker trains in the offseason at the University of South Carolina, where he played varsity ball. He takes balls on the ground there, sometimes sending hot shots to a pitching machine.
Walker said he lines up the grounders at over 100 miles per hour, turning the machine’s three knobs all the way in and tilting them down to mimic the sharpest grounders. He also uses knuckleballs to work on awkward bounces and awkward angles.
“That’s kind of the point of the practice, to make the environment make you better,” Walker said.
The results showed. No other first baseman in MLB has recorded half of Walker’s defensive runs, as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has six to pace the rest of the field.
Only third basemen Nolan Arenado of the St. Louis Cardinals and Ke’Bryan Hayes of the Pittsburgh Pirates have more in all of baseball with 15 apiece.
Walker’s ultimate zone rating — which factors in an above-average player’s arm, reach, errors and double play — also tops MLB first basemen at 3.2, according to FanGraphs.
“He’s steadily improved every year,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “I see someone who works extremely hard before the game and never takes days off on that side of the ball. If we have the ability to take balls on the ground, he is one of the first and works at a steady and very fast pace.
“He trains fast and I think that translates to success in games. He’s had a great year defensively, but that’s no surprise to me. He’s worked really hard to get there. .
The veteran’s method involves finer tuning in the offseason so he can focus on getting consistent reps of game speed in spring training and throughout the season.
Walker, who played catcher and third base growing up before moving to first base in college, said he didn’t second-guess himself on the field as a result of that preparation.
He was a Gold Glove finalist once in his D-backs tenure (2019). Walker finished second to Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, but he’s making a strong case for awards season this year.