Walker Lockett thinks of himself as a confident pitcher, at least as much as his 6-foot-5 frame will allow.
“I like to have a good mound presence,” Lockett said. “I like hitters to think they don’t have a chance against me.”
But the Tri-City Dust Devils’ 21-year-old right-hander is humble enough to know how much of an honor it is to be named Opening Day starter when Tri-City visits Boise at 6:05 p.m. Thursday.
“Honestly, it hasn’t happened to me since high school,” said Lockett, a fourth-round draft pick by the San Diego Padres in 2012 out of Providence High School in Jacksonville, Fla. “It feels good that the coaches have enough confidence in me to get us a win in the first game.”
Three seasons after making his first professional start in the Arizona Rookie League, Lockett is still looking for his first professional victory. Based on his progress at the Padres’ extended spring training site in Peoria, Ariz., Tri-City manager Anthony Contreras won’t be a bit surprised to see it come sooner than later.
“He came to us (this spring) throwing the ball really well. We were really pleased with what we saw in extended,” Contreras said. “He’s got a live arm and a lot of sink on his pitches. Plus, he has some veteran presence. He’s been around the organization a little bit. He’s a good guy to go with in our first game.”
Lockett missed most of the 2013 season with a blister issue that wouldn’t clear up. When he’s healthy, he can run his two-seam fastball up to 94 mph, and he’s got an effective change-up to go with it. Plus, his height can be an added advantage when facing hitters.
“He’s got some deception with the angle. You’ll see that on all our pitchers. They’re all 6-feet or taller,” Contreras said. “That was always tougher on me as a hitter, when you have a big guy throwing at a downward angle rather than a small guy throwing on more of an even plane.”
Jose Castillo, a 6-4 left-hander, will get the start for the Dust Devils on Day 2.
Lockett is encouraged by what he sees from the rest of his pitching compatriots so far.
“So far I think we’ve got a really good staff. A bunch of guys with a bunch of different tools,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll be short on pitching.”
Neither does Tri-City pitching coach Nelson Cruz.
“I tell you what, we have a lot of young, hard throwers who have been developing. (They are) guys who have been in the organization before, guys who were here (in the Northwest League) last year but couldn’t move up because we have a lot of pitchers at a high level,” Cruz said. “Plus there’s the guys from the draft. Watching those guys throw bullpens the first couple days, I’m really impressed.”
• Asked who might be the Dust Devils closer for 2015, Cruz said he believes it’s better to keep a closer-by-committee approach.
“I don’t like to name a closer. Every time we see a hard thrower, we think about them as a closer. Basically, (that’s) the whole staff,” Cruz said. “Since we’re developing players, we want to put guys in a lot of different situations so we can see where they’re at. Everybody is going to have an opportunity.”
• Tyler Matzek, a first-round pick by the Colorado Rockies in 2009, will join the Hawks during the five-game series against Tri-City. Matzek started the season in the majors as part of the Rockies’ starting rotation, going 2-1 with a 4.09 ERA through his first five starts. But he began experiencing a surprising loss of control, walking six batters in two innings during one start. At Triple-A Albuquerque, Matzek pitched one inning, allowing seven runs and seven walks before being removed.