Walker relishes return from injury

Walker relishes return from injury

CHICAGO -- Rejoining his team would seem like excitement enough for Todd Walker, but coming back in the midst of the Cubs' three-game winning streak made the smile on his face just a little bit bigger on Wednesday afternoon.

Walker returned to Wrigley Field on Wednesday after making more than a week's worth of rehab starts in Triple-A Iowa, but that didn't mean he wasn't following his team's progress during his time away.

Driving back from Des Moines on Tuesday night, Walker flipped through radio stations to find the Cubs' game. Listening to the team pull off a come-from-behind win over the Astros put Walker in a role that he wasn't quite used to and is glad to be leaving behind.

"I kind of became a fan a little bit and became very excited about the way it ended up last night," Walker said before Wednesday's game. "I imagine everyone else is as well. If we win tonight, we get back to .500, and that's a step in the right direction."

While that win eluded the Cubs as they fell, 5-1, to the Astros, having Walker back could be an even bigger leap toward keeping the Cubs on the right track. The team has been dealt many injuries since Walker was placed on the disabled list after spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a collision with Milwaukee's Carlos Lee on April 10.

Getting back their starting second baseman, who was hitting .381 in six games before his injury, could be a powerful addition to the team's struggling offense. Manager Dusty Baker wasted no time reinserting Walker into the lineup, giving him the nod at second base on Wednesday.

"He's not going to get the strokes while sitting," Baker said of his decision to start Walker. "I will probably play him against most right-handers and [Jerry] Hairston against most left-handers, and then I'll see how [Walker's] moving, what kind of mobility he has and if I have to double switch and mix-and-match during the course of the game."

Despite referring to Wednesday's game as "another Opening Day," Walker didn't have exactly the comeback he would have liked. The second baseman went 0-for-3 in his three plate appearances, but he also suffered through a slow start when he first went on his rehabilitation assignment. In nine appearances for Triple-A Iowa, Walker went 8-for-37 with three RBIs and thee runs scored.

"I was 0-for-20 to start, and then I went back to Des Moines and got three hits the first night," Walker said. "In four games, I had eight hits so the last four days have been good. That's when I started counting anyway, is when I got my first hit. The 0-for-20 doesn't count."

Although Walker is able to play and contribute, he will not be competing at 100 percent until much later in the season. Walker said it will take around 16 weeks for his knee to be close to where it was before the injury, but that doesn't mean that he feels unprepared to play.

"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't ready to go," Walker said. "I feel fine with all the movements.

"I've been playing in Triple-A and believe it or not, they throw the ball pretty well down there, so I feel pretty ready."

Walker's hitting stats from his first game back may not look like he's quite back to big-league form just yet, but his defense seemed to be without much rust. With a strong night out in the field and some things he took from his at-bats, Walker didn't feel too badly about his first outing since the injury.

"As long as I'm putting the ball in play, I'm going to be alright," Walker said. "And defensively, I felt good, which to me was my most important thing, going to my left and right. Now I just have to work from there."

Although the smile Walker had to begin the day had faded a bit following the team's loss, Walker's sense of humor did not. When asked if his day was dampened a bit by the game's outcome, Walker joked that it may affect his status with the team.

"I might just get sent back," Walker said with a laugh. "I'm a bad luck charm."

Kelly Thesier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.