Thursday's news brought a change of plans. Walden will still head East, but he'll keep going -- all the way to Phoenix for the 82nd Major League All-Star Game.
The Halos' 23-year-old fireballer was added to the American League roster on Thursday, replacing the Yankees' Mariano Rivera. Rivera, whose All-Star selection was the 12th of his career, is nursing a sore right triceps.
"Good change of plans," said a visibly delighted Walden, an ear-to-ear grin creasing his bearded jaw. "I'm not going to complain at all. I'd rather be playing baseball."
Walden is one of three Angels All-Stars this season, joining Jered Weaver and Howard Kendrick.
Because Rivera was chosen by the players, rules dictate that his replacement would be the next-highest ranking reliever who was not already selected to the team via the player ballot. Walden's 67 votes slotted him fifth among relievers on the AL player ballot.
Walden enters Thursday touting a 2.95 ERA and has converted 19 of 25 save opportunities, only three saves shy of the Angels' single-season rookie record set by Ken Tatum in 1969. The 23-year-old has struck out 39 batters in 36 2/3 innings of work, primarily due to his fastball, which has been clocked as fast as 101 mph.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia -- who had mentioned Walden as a deserving All-Star candidate in recent weeks -- wasn't surprised by the news. The 12th-year skipper said the fact that the Midsummer Classic has determined home-field advantage since 2003 has changed the way rosters are assembled for the annual showcase.
"Especially when you look at a young power arm in a league, and bring him into a game that will have an impact on the World Series," Scioscia said. "Major League Baseball would defer sometimes to a veteran player because of stature. Now I just think it's just really talent driven, to go out there and put guys in a position to help you win the game."
Walden is the first Angels rookie named to the All-Star team since right-hander Jason Dickson got the nod in 1997. The 6-5, 235-pounder said that his first reaction to the news, unlike Scioscia, was surprise -- then happiness took over.
"It feels real good that people voted for me and everything, especially as a rookie," Walden said. "I did not expect this for my rookie season. You dream about going to the All-Star Game, you dream about playing in it. I'm just excited."
But even though he's technically replacing Rivera, Walden doesn't expect to be modeling his pitching repertoire after the Yankees legendary stopper anytime soon.
"I will not try to work on a cutter before I go," he said with a chuckle. "He's a great pitcher. Me even being in the same sentence as him is awesome."
Jordan Garretson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less