The Daily Evergreen

Putting weight of team, game on his arm

Walker is called on late in contests when WSU is closing in on victory

ABBY+LINNENKOHL+%7C+DAILY+EVERGREEN+FILE%0ASenior+right-handed+pitcher+Ryan+Walker+stares+down+a+batter+as+he+prepares+%0Ato+release+a+pitch+against+Cal+on+Saturday+at+Bailey-Brayton+Field.
ABBY LINNENKOHL | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE
Senior right-handed pitcher Ryan Walker stares down a batter as he prepares 
to release a pitch against Cal on Saturday at Bailey-Brayton Field.

ABBY LINNENKOHL | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE Senior right-handed pitcher Ryan Walker stares down a batter as he prepares to release a pitch against Cal on Saturday at Bailey-Brayton Field.

ABBY LINNENKOHL | Daily Evergreen File

ABBY LINNENKOHL | Daily Evergreen File

ABBY LINNENKOHL | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE Senior right-handed pitcher Ryan Walker stares down a batter as he prepares to release a pitch against Cal on Saturday at Bailey-Brayton Field.

AVERY COOPER, Evergreen reporter

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In a close game, there’s nobody WSU wants on the mound more than senior right-handed pitcher Ryan Walker.

Dan Spencer, associate head coach and pitching coach, said the team has two goals in every game.

“Try to get the lead, and give the ball to Walker with a lead,” he said. “That’s it.”

Gaining the lead is obviously essential in any sport, but it is clear why the coaching staff has so much trust in Walker to maintain it.

In 12 appearances this season, Walker has a 3-2 record with a 2.73 ERA and three saves. The saves are his specialty as the team’s closer.

Walker said a closer has to have a poise demeanor, especially in tight situations, like when he pitched against University of Arizona in the bottom of the seventh inning with loaded bases and the Cougars up by one run.

Walker worked himself out of that jam and earned his second save of the season.

“In that situation, you just have to be so confident in yourself and so mentally prepared for that,” he said. “Nothing’s going to stop you from succeeding.”

However, Walker was not always in this role.

A Washington native and a three-time letter winner at Arlington High School, he always knew he could throw hard. He spent many of his high school years blowing by hitters with his fastball without much discretion.

He was not sold on the idea of being just a pitcher in high school, though. He was Arlington’s offensive MVP three straight seasons, hitting above a .400 batting average in at least two.

It’s not that he didn’t enjoy pitching. He was good at it, becoming the first Arlington High School pitcher to win a playoff game since 1995 during his sophomore season. Rather, his love of being in the field deterred him from being exclusively a pitcher.

“In the beginning it was like, ‘OK, this sucks. I don’t get to field groundballs and don’t get to hit anymore,’ ” Walker said. “I loved playing defense. I could field groundballs 24-7 and I still would love that.”

Walker was good enough to be offered a scholarship to WSU after his sophomore year of high school, and he didn’t hesitate.

“I just took it right away,” Walker said. “Pac-12 school and they’re offering me this scholarship? Yeah, I’m going to take that.”

Walker admitted the transition from high school to college was one of the hardest things he had ever been through, but it made him much better.

“The summer bridge program where we had to be here and do two-a-days, like four times a week,” Walker said, “that was the most mentally exhausting thing I’ve ever gone through.”

He said his father, Mark, is one of the people he credits much of his success to. Mark played baseball for Gonzaga University.

“I don’t think he ever missed a baseball game in my whole life,” Walker said. “He spent all the money to get me where I needed to be, money that I don’t know if he had or not. But he just wanted to see me succeed and he did it for me.”

In his first season at WSU, Walker performed considerably well for a freshman. He appeared in 25 games and started seven with a 1-1 record and a 2.72 ERA, while allowing opponents to hit just .221 against him.

In Walker’s sophomore season, Spencer stepped in as WSU’s pitching coach and helped to change his approach to pitching.

Prior to his sophomore season, Walker said he had only ever used a four-seam fastball, not a two-seam. The latter is considered essential in keeping hitters off-balance, as two-seam fastballs move around more.

But when Spencer learned Walker was not using a two-seam, he suggested a rare pitch: the no-seam fastball.

“There’s not a lot of guys who can throw it, and he can,” Spencer said. “It really moves and bites for him, and it’s been a good pitch for him.”

Walker said that because of Spencer, the fastball has become his favorite pitch.

“I love the breaking ball, my slider,” Walker said, “but I’ve really turned into a fastball guy.”

Walker’s sophomore season, in his mind, was arguably the most consistent. He posted a 6-3 record in 18 appearances with a 2.40 ERA.

He struggled a bit in his junior season as the coaching staff moved him to the starting rotation. He recorded a 5-5 record with a 5.67 ERA in 21 appearances.

“[It was] really rough last year,” Walker said. “There were some things that I had to work on.”

This season is different, as he moved back to the bullpen to be the reliable arm that every baseball team needs. His role is set — he is the closer.

“I just feel a lot more confident, a lot more comfortable,” Walker said. “I love pressure situations, coming in when they need me.”

Walker is unique because many closers only pitch one inning, but the Cougars have called on him to close out a game with multiple innings remaining on more than one occasion this season.

He has two appearances with four innings pitched in one-run games, one against Arizona State University and one against University of California, Berkley. Both resulted in victories for the Cougars.

Spencer said Walker’s mentality separates him from the rest of the bullpen.

“Ryan is a tremendous worker,” he said. “He’s aggressive and he’s tenacious.”

Being the bullpen stud comes with its responsibilities. Walker is often looked at as the senior leader in the there.

“It feels really good,” Walker said. “I just love the questions they ask … it’s really cool to be able to be that guy that can help the younger guys out to make them successful.”

A sobering reality every senior student athlete inevitably faces is approaching for Walker: saying goodbye to the college, the coaches, the players and the culture that made him into the player he is today.

“The atmosphere here is awesome,” Walker said. “I’m going to miss that a lot. Obviously, I’m going to come back and support our team.”

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Putting weight of team, game on his arm