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Pirates notebook: Walker has no plans to abandon switch-hitting

| Thursday, July 4, 2013, 8:03 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker bats from the right side in front of Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz on Thursday, July 4, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker bats from the right side in front of Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz on Thursday, July 4, 2013, at PNC Park.

Despite his troubles from the right side, Neil Walker insists it wouldn't do him much good to give up switch-hitting at this point in the season.

“After doing it for so long, it would be very difficult to stop,” Walker said. “I still have value as a right-handed hitter and it would be extremely difficult to do left on left.”

Switch-hitters are pitched differently than one-way hitters. They force pitchers to think harder and, when things go right, worry a bit more, too. Switch-hitters can have the same effect on defenses.

That's why Walker wants to stick with it.

“People want to look at the numbers, and I understand that,” he said. “But I really think it would be difficult to do in the middle of the season, unless there was a situation where something got hurt and I could only swing one way.”

Walker has always been a better batter against right-handers. This year, Walker is batting .208 with a .466 OPS against left-handers and .262 with an .817 OPS against right-handers.

“You have to have the same approach both ways,” Walker said. “Sometimes it goes good and sometimes it doesn't.”

Manager Clint Hurdle said he has talked with Walker about his struggles. But when asked if he asked Walker to try left-on-left, Hurdle was evasive.

“His 2010 season was pretty solid from the right side (.295 average, .809 OPS). We're trying to rekindle that,” Hurdle said. “This has been a season (in which) he's had to grind. He understands that. Sometimes you need to throw your helmet down. Feel what you need to feel, but let's go out and continue to compete. We'll see where it goes, but definitely know it hasn't been what we expected.”

Maybe the infield single Walker squibbed in the second inning Wednesday will be the hit that changes his fortunes against lefties. He wound up 2 for 3 against Phillies southpaw John Lannan. For the season, Walker is hitting .248 with six home runs and 25 RBI.

“It's no secret that I've been grinding this season,” Walker said. “But when I simplify things and get my swing off, at least I'm hitting balls on the barrel. You try not to worry so much about the results as the process — how you're feeling at the plate, how you're seeing the ball, how you're getting pitched.”

Hurdle stumps for Alvarez

Hurdle doesn't expect Pedro Alvarez to be the starting third baseman for the National League roster in the All-Star Game — the Mets' David Wright almost certainly will get that honor — but he believes Alvarez deserves a spot on the roster.

“Yes, I think so,” Hurdle said. “When you look at the field of third basemen, if you're looking for a guy who can come off the bench and change the game with one swing of the bat, (Alvarez) would be as important to have as anybody.”

Hurdle noted the All-Star Game has evolved over the years.

“It used to truly be those guys who were having all-star halves (of the season),” Hurdle said. “Then it got to be the tradition and romanticism of the game. Now, it's the newest, fastest and brightest. This (Yasiel) Puig kid has changed the whole dimension of it — not good, not bad, just different. And Pedro, I think, falls into that different category.”

Advice for Locke

Jeff Locke is the first Pirates lefty to win eight straight decisions since John Candelaria in 1983.

Also, Locke (8-1) has not lost a decision in his past 16 outings — the longest single-season streak in franchise history.

Locke's 2.12 ERA is second-best in the NL, but it hasn't always been easy. Wednesday, the Phillies came up with a run off him in the fourth inning, but left the bases loaded.

“This is the first time in my life I ever got away with my hands clean like I have this season,” Locke said. “I'm aware of guys being on base and the times I'm in jams, but I have confidence to get out of those jams.”

Locke's lone loss came in his first start of the season, way back in April. But past performance doesn't guarantee future success. Last year, James McDonald went 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA before the All-Star break. He went 3-5 with a 7.52 ERA in the second half.

Does McDonald have any advice for Locke?

“Keep being you,” McDonald said. “Don't try to do too much. Don't put too much on your shoulders. Remember, there are other guys behind you who can contribute, too. Keep bringing what you bring to the team. Don't try to become a new guy in the second half. (Locke) is a real stubborn guy; he'll be fine.”

International market

DPLBaseball.com, which exclusively covers prospects in the Dominican Republic, reported the Pirates came to terms with shortstop Adrian Valerio and outfielder Edinson Lantigua. According to the website, Valerio will get a $400,000 deal and Lantigua will get $275,000 — however, the Pirates would not comment on either player.

“We have agreed to terms with some players, but are (still) in the process of actually signing them to contracts,” general manager Neal Huntington said via text message.

Tuesday was the first day MLB clubs could sign international free agents who are at least 16 years old. The Pirates' MLB-assigned pool for international signings in the 2013-14 cycle is $2.426 million, which is $474,000 less than they were allowed to spend last year.

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

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