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Pirates outfielder Snider certainly proving to be (big) hit

| Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 10:51 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Travis Snider watches his pinch hit grand slam leave the ballpark during the sixth inning against the Cubs Tuesday May 22, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Travis Snider hits a grand slam during the fifth inning against the Cubs on Tuesday May 21, 2013, at PNC Park.

The first time he walked into PNC Park, Pirates outfielder Travis Snider did the usual new-arrival tour. He checked out the clubhouse, video room and indoor batting cages. He got a feel for the outfield corners. He stood at home plate and judged the sight lines from the batter's box.

As Snider noticed the Allegheny River flowing lazily beyond the right-field seats, did he wonder what it would be like to launch a ball into the water?

“Absolutely,” Snider said.

The Allegheny is a tempting target, and reaching it is a status symbol. Of the 1,712 home runs hit at PNC Park since it opened in 2001, only 32 — about 2 percent — have gotten wet.

A week ago, Snider walloped a pitch from Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Hiram Burgos 458 feet over the right-field wall. The ball bounced on the concourse, rolled down the grassy hill and plopped into the river.

It was the longest homer of Snider's career. What could be better?

Maybe a pinch-hit grand slam.

On Tuesday, Snider hit for Clint Barmes with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth inning. Chicago Cubs reliever Shawn Camp threw a 2-1 changeup, and Snider sent it over the wall in right-center.

In a six-day span, Snider checked off two items that would be on any slugger's bucket list. But when someone wondered aloud if Snider considers himself a power hitter, he frowned and shook his head.

“I don't worry about all that kind of stuff,” Snider said. “I consider myself a ballplayer, and I try to help the team win in whatever capacity on a given day.”

That's the answer Pirates management wants to hear. Manager Clint Hurdle could barely contain a harrumph when asked if he was impressed by Snider's big flies.

“We seem to be the only ones not concerned about the power,” Hurdle said. “We want him to focus on being a good hitter because that's one of the things that escaped him a little bit. He's always been a good hitter first, and then the power came into play.”

Snider showed long-ball potential in the minor leagues. He hit 50 homers in his first 305 games in the Toronto Blue Jays' farm system. At age 20, five days after making his big league debut, Snider went deep for the first time off the Minnesota Twins' Kevin Slowey.

Although Snider hit 14 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays in 2010, his swing began to deteriorate.

“I've got to believe in the situation he was in, with the lineup he was in — free-swinging guys, big and strong ‘grip-it-and-rip-it' guys — that can (affect) you,” Hurdle said. “When we got him, we felt the basic stroke and the strength of the stroke had kind of disconnected. So our focus has been to rebuild his swing. We felt confident that once he got the swing back, the power would follow.”

Snider has tweaked his mechanics. The most important change involved moving his hands to a higher starting point as he did early in his career. It gives him a more compact swing and lets him stay back on the ball.

It's also vital, Snider said, to never want to swing for the fences.

“When I've had success in the minors and for a few stints in the majors, it's a thoughtless process,” Snider said. “Sometimes. you fall into that trap where you try to hit the big fly when really it's a matter of just making contact. These guys throw hard enough that if we just put the barrel on the ball, it's going to go somewhere. Those of us who have that kind of power, it's usually the less that we do the more that comes out of it.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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