"We started him for a while and thought there would be a need out of the bullpen," Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita said. "He took a shot there, but we thought he showed his value throwing as a starter."
As a starter, Walrond has gone 9-3 with a 3.77 ERA while logging 117 innings in 2006. He appeared in 11 games from the bullpen and sported an ERA of five and a half points.
"We thought we put him in the right spot so that if a need arises, we can utilize him and give him an opportunity to come up and help the big league club," Fleita said.
The 29-year-old Walrond originally hails from Tulsa, but was born in Muskogee, Okla., where the "kids still respect the college dean," and don't smoke marijuana, or "burn their draft cards down on Main Street."
Being from the area has resulted in the occasional good-natured ribbing.
"Yeah, I've heard that a few times," says Walrond, "though not as much anymore since I live in Nashville now during the off-season."
Walrond inked a minor league contract with the Cubs this past off-season after turning 29 in November. He joined his fourth major league organization since being drafted by the Cardinals in 1998.
Entering his first year with the Cubs, Walrond had 54 career minor league victories and a 4.00 ERA in 848 1/3 innings. Most of those innings had been spent as a starter.
After pitching for the Florida Marlins' Triple-A club in Albuquerque last season, Walrond could justifiably have breathed a sigh of relief over the opportunity to pitch his home games in a park that would appear less catering to opposing hitters.
Not so fast. Walrond believes pitching in the high altitudes of Albuquerque for a season has made him a better pitcher.
"I was able to work on my sinker to try and create more groundballs," he said. "That's helped me out a lot this year."
The sinker is a big part of Walrond's repertoire, although the former University of Kansas southpaw still considers himself a curveball specialist. In years past, his fastball routinely checked in anywhere from 84-87 mph.
This past off-season, Walrond sought to change that.
"I worked pretty hard on my legs and tried to get my velocity back up a little bit," Walrond said. "This year, I've been pretty much 88 to 91 miles per hour with my fastball."
In turn, the extra zip has only aided Walrond's breaking ball.
"My out-pitch is still my curveball," he said. "I'm still a curveball, off-speed type of pitcher. I throw a good changeup to righties with two strikes. That's definitely helped my pitch count to where I've been able to go deeper into games this season."
With 133 innings already under his belt this season, Walrond could make a run at 150 frames before the curtain closes on the regular season in less than two weeks, especially if he can work his way up to the major league team on or around Sept. 1.
Going up to "the show" would be a first for Walrond since 2003. He made his major league debut that year for the Kansas City Royals and appeared in seven games for the club out of the bullpen.
If Walrond were to return to the big leagues this season, it would likely be as a reliever. Pitching from the ‘pen as he did throughout most all of July, he was able to fill many a role and provide more options for manager Mike Quade than many relievers.
"Pitching out of the bullpen, I was able to fill a couple of roles: long relief, short relief, and also to come in as a lefty specialist," Walrond said. "I was asked, because of the situation with the big league club at the time, if I would move to the bullpen. The situation then changed with a few guys going down and I was asked to go back to starting."
Signing a minor league contract as he did during the off-season, Walrond wasn't guaranteed a spot anywhere in the organization and is not guaranteed through 2007. He will be eligible for minor league free agency again this off-season.
Walrond appeared in seven games for the Cubs in Spring Training and was originally slated to go to minor league camp.
"Something happened where they invited me to big league camp and kept me there the whole time," said Walrond. "I pitched in a few games so the Cubs got a few looks at me."
Time will tell if the Cubs have liked what they've seen from those looks in 2006, but Walrond believes with the year he's had, he has a chance to make a positive impression.
"Hopefully I have a good chance to get back to the majors with the Cubs or some other team. If I get a chance this September, I definitely would want to re-sign with the Cubs, because it would show me they have an interest in me, even if I came back to Iowa next year," Walrond said.