When Taijuan Walker makes his return to the Citi Field mound on Thursday, he doesn’t know how it will feel. At this point, he’s still preparing just as for any start: studying, digesting film and watching how the Mets, for which he played in 2021 and 2022, have approached previous games.
But there will likely be an underlying emotional tug, a reminder of what he accomplished with the organization.
Walker, who signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Phillies in December, told The Post on Tuesday that he had interest in returning to the Mets.
He was comfortable with the team, and his results reflected that.
“We didn’t really have too much communication, and the Phillies showed interest from the beginning and they really wanted me,” Walker, who holds a 4-2 record and 5.57 ERA in 2023, said. “For a team to really want you and really push hard for you, it makes you as a player feel good.”
That doesn’t mean Walker holds a grudge toward the Mets.
The industry’s business, and the new deal, worked in his favor: Walker has no opt-outs or option years, which provided stability that the 30-year-old didn’t necessarily have earlier in his career — when he was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks in 2019 and a free agent again following his 2020 season with the Mariners and Blue Jays.
“Even getting the Mets deal was hard for me,” Walker said before the Mets’ 4-1 win on Wednesday night. “To lock down a four-year deal, all the work I’ve put in and stuff, it feels good.”
With the Mets, Walker went 19-16 with a 3.98 ERA, and he made his lone All-Star Game as a replacement in 2021.
Since joining the Phillies, Walker has thrown his splitter more, something the staff wanted after pinpointing it as his top pitch, he said.
That will be the focal point of his pitch selection against the Mets on Thursday, when he becomes the latest pitcher to return to Citi Field. Phillies teammate Zack Wheeler faced a similar start in 2020 (though there were no fans due to the pandemic), and everybody approaches those reunions differently — “the way I treated it was a little different than I do now,” Wheeler told The Post.
“I still want to pitch very well against [the Mets], just because,” Wheeler said. “But at the same time, it doesn’t have that level of excitement, I guess? It’s just another start, but you still want to pitch very well.”
Walker thinks he’ll be a “little amped up” when he takes the mound Thursday. Wheeler knows, from experience, that Walker will want to follow with a strong outing, too.
“But at the end of the day, I can’t get too high,” Walker told The Post. “I can’t get too low. I gotta win a ballgame.”