Pirates consider batting Walker in cleanup spot

| Thursday, March 15, 2012

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Pirates are strongly considering having Neil Walker become their primary cleanup hitter.

He batted fourth again Wednesday in the 11-5 rout of the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium, the third time this spring. Lineups usually mean little this time of year, but this placement comes with a purpose: Management has been discussing the matter internally and would love to see Walker earn the job.

Doesn't sound like he'd mind having it, either.

"Sure, I would," Walker said. "It's not a place where I've hit very much, to be honest, but I've always been comfortable with men on base. It's something I've always enjoyed."

The Pirates are mostly set on the top three in the lineup. Alex Presley or Jose Tabata will lead off. Presley has done most of the leading off this spring. Whoever doesn't lead off will bat second, followed by Andrew McCutchen at No. 3. That gives the team good contact and speed atop the order, as well as good on-base skills if Presley can improve in that regard.

But there's no readily obvious cleanup candidate, which is one reason Walker has moved to the forefront. The other, as Walker indicated, is that he's had a history of run-producing, best evidenced by 149 career RBIs in 286 games.

Other numbers of note:

> > He's a .246 hitter with no one on base, .323 with runners aboard.

> > He bats .286 with runners in scoring position -- six points above his overall average -- and .545 with bases loaded.

> > In 67 games and 249 career at-bats at cleanup, he has batted .253 with six home runs and 37 RBIs.

Baseball's statistical analysts can provide reams of evidence to refute the concept of clutch, but few will dispute the absence of clutch, meaning when a hitter performs well below his own standard in run-producing situations. Thus, Walker's statistics are meaningful mostly in that there's no precipitous drop-off.

McCutchen gave Walker an endorsement.

"No question Neil can do it," he said. "He proved last year that he's the type of player who's steady, who can get the job done."

Walker's 24 career home runs project to about a dozen per season, so, as he put it, "I'm not exactly the prototype cleanup guy. But I don't know how many of those there are in the game, Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder and those guys. But I do think I could bring something there, being able to match up as a switch-hitter, keeping a set lineup."

It might not be too set. The Pirates also are discussing using right-handed Casey McGehee at cleanup when facing a left-hander. McGehee or Garrett Jones would bat mostly fifth, where Jones batted yesterday.

Walker singled twice in three at-bats yesterday -- both bouncers through the infield -- after a 1 for 10 start to his spring.

Photo Galleries

2012 Pirates Spring Training

2012 Pirates Spring Training

Photos from Pirates spring training in Bradenton, Florida.

Additional Information:

Walker at fourth

Here are Neil Walker's career numbers at cleanup for the Pirates:

At-bats: 249

Hits: 63

Doubles: 9

Triples: 1

Home runs: 6

RBIs: 37

Average: 253

On-base percentage: .321


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