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Pirates notebook: Tabata's extra work pays off at plate

| Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

Jose Tabata heard it loud and clear last month when Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talked about searching for a right fielder before the non-waiver trade deadline.

“I knew people said the Pirates need a right fielder,” Tabata said. “It made me feel a little bit like I've got to do something. Since the (All-Star break), I've seen the pitches better, I'm looking at video and working with hitting coach (Jay Bell). You see what's happening.”

In 12 games in August, Tabata is batting .371 (13 for 35) with five extra-base hits and five walks. He came off the bench Thursday and had three hits against the St. Louis Cardinals. He smacked a two-run homer in the eighth inning Friday off Arizona Diamondbacks reliever J.J. Putz.

“It's always a good sign when you see Jose drive the ball the other way like that,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It's a gift he's brought to the game since he's been a young player. It's one of the first things I saw from him ... the ability to stay inside the baseball and drive it to right field.”

If Tabata needed any more incentive to produce, he got it last week when the Pirates called up rookie right fielder Andrew Lambo, who had been mashing in the minor leagues.

“I appreciate the opportunity the manager has given me,” Tabata said. “When I see my name in the lineup, I'm putting out 100 percent.”

It helps that Tabata is healthier than he's been in a while. He has a checkered injury history, and earlier this year missed time due to a sore hamstring and a strained oblique.

“I'm working hard with the trainers, especially on my legs,” he said. “It's why I'm here early, every day.”

Planet of the aches

Catcher Michael McKenry is back in the clubhouse for the first time since having season-ending knee surgery July 30.

McKenry will do much of his rehab in Pittsburgh and hopes to travel with the team on its final road trip of the regular season. He expects to be able to put aside his crutches Sept. 11.

“From there, (the rehab) is kind of open-ended,” he said. “You have to be really careful, let it heal and let your body do its work.”

McKenry tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee while sliding into second base July 27 against the Miami Marlins. Although he was in great pain, he did not leave the game and went 4 for 5.

“I have kind of a stupid pain tolerance,” he said. “I couldn't straighten my leg. I could squat, but I couldn't run. It hurt when I swung. The tear was so clean, (the meniscus) lodged underneath my kneecap.”

Closer Jason Grilli (right forearm strain) threw from 90 and 100 feet Saturday. He'll rest Sunday, then be stretched out to 120 feet Monday.

“After that, we'll make a determination if there's a possible slope visit or mound visit,” Hurdle said. “Good progress.”

Right-hander Jeff Karstens (shoulder surgery) was in Pittsburgh to be re-evaluated and will return Sunday to Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. He is in the early stages of a throwing program.

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

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