Stevens: Josh Walker Feels Good About Playing For Lobos

May 28, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Baseball - 2013 NCAA College World Series -- Cal State Fullerton Regional

Regional Format: Four-team, double-elimination tournament
Friday: 5 p.m. (MT), New Mexico Lobos vs. Arizona State Sun Devils; 9 p.m. (MT) Cal State Fullerton vs. Columbia
On The Air: ESPN3 (TV); ESPN Radio 101.7 (FM) The Team
Saturday: Friday's losers play at 5 p.m. (MT); Winners play at 9 p.m. (MT)

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

In athletics, perfection is a rarity - a dream usually dancing just beyond your grasp. You don't throw every pass for a touchdown. You miss a few jump shots or open soccer nets. Not all the fastballs that zip off your fingertips find the zone.

But there is perfection to be found on the scoreboard. You win - that's pretty much perfect.

So far, in 2013, New Mexico's Josh Walker has been pretty much perfect. He is 11-0 on the mound and one of five undefeated D-I pitchers with 11 or more wins.

But here's a curious stat for Walker: Of the top 78 winningest pitchers listed in the NCAA stats, only one has thrown fewer innings than the Lobo junior.

There is a reason for this. The plan for Walker in 2013 was to bring him out of the bullpen to get saves. Instead, Lobo Coach Ray Birmingham found a starter - and a winner. In a way, you could say Walker moved from the back of the bus to the front.

"He throws strikes, but we found out he throws more strikes as a starter," said Birmingham. "We moved him back to the front. He has thrown some incredibly well-pitched games."

There are some obvious reasons for Walker's success. Like Birmingham says, Walker throws strikes. His fastball isn't' blazing but it moves like it's being directed to a locater beam in Mitch Garver's mitt. Walker's off-speed stuff finds the corners - often low in the zone.

The Rio Rancho High product also is cool and confident on the mound. Walker is quick to credit the feel-good atmosphere on this Lobo team for creating a zone for Walker on the mound that helps him find the zone over the plate.

"The main thing for me this season, for a lot of us, is we are out there playing for each other and we all know that the coaching staff cares about us as people," said Walker, who came to UNM from Howard Junior College.

"We go out there feeling good about each other and trusting in each other. When I'm on the mound, it's nice to feel good about who you are playing for. I don't go out there with any unnecessary weight on my shoulders."

Of course, this no-pressure zone is no accident. Oh, Birmingham puts pressure on his Lobos to work hard and be prepared to do their job. But if the effort and the execution is there, Birmingham says he can live with the results - good or not so good.

"We spend a lot of time telling kids, `We are a blue-collar team, just go out there and do your job and whatever happens, happens," said Birmingham. "We don't get emotional and Josh has bought into that."

Said Walker: "There are a lot of things that play into success and failure."

So far in 2013, Walker has found tremendous success. He carries a 3.91 ERA into the Cal State Fullerton Regional where the Lobos open postseason play against Arizona State.

Walker has pitched 71.1 innings in 28 appearances. Justin Garza (11-0) of Fullerton has thrown 99.2 innings in 15 appearances (15 starts). Ryan Kellogg (11-0) of ASU has thrown 96.2 innings in 15 appearances (14 starts).

Walker's low number of frames is a product of bullpen work that usually produces fewer innings. That bullpen work (only three starts) also gives him a fresh arm going into NCAA play.

Walker is more of a pitcher with a plan rather than an overpowering gun. He has 52 strikeouts and only 18 walks. He is willing to let his defense - and the Lobo offense - help him get mound wins.

"What's working for me on the mound is being able to throw the fastball where I want to throw it and locating my off-speed pitches," said Walker. "If you can locate for strikes with more than just your fastball, you have a chance to succeed.

"You have to be confident out there and a lot of that comes with hitting your spots."

The Lobos are booming with confidence heading into the Fullerton Regional, but this NCAA zone will be a battle zone with three teams - UNM, Cal-Fullerton and ASU - ranked in Baseball America's Top 20.

Walker - and these Lobos - knows exactly what it takes to win. "We try to win every game together," said Walker. "We all have to do our job. All we can really do is go out there and play hard, play together and trust each other.

"Sometimes you need a little luck, but you can't always control that. That's why it's nice to have as many tools as you can.

"We have a great offense and a great defense and the pitching is picking it up. We are beginning to look like a five-star ball club. Whoever comes out of this regional definitely will have earned it."