No switch in plans for Pirates second baseman Walker
By Rob Biertempfel
Published: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
TAMPA — The Pirates are going to send Neil Walker to minor league camp.
Don't panic. The Pittsburgh Kid still is the starting second baseman. There's logic behind having Walker play some innings against the Triple-A Durham Bulls or Double-A Trenton Thunder on a day the Pirates are facing the New York Yankees.
Blame a lack of left-handed pitchers. Walker scuffled last year against southpaws, but it's hard to figure them out without facing them often in spring training. So when lefties are scheduled to pitch in minor league games, Walker will catch a ride from Mc-Kechnie Field to Pirate City to put in his work.
Some stats wonks insist it would be better for Walker to give up switch-hitting. He said that would be running from a problem, not finding a solution.
“I'll always be a switch-hitter,” Walker said Thursday. “The critics can say this or that about hitting left-handed (full-time). But if they'd ever try to hit a left-hander's slider (while batting) left-handed, they'd reconsider.”
Walker's struggles last year were not limited to lefties. Many of his stats were significantly lower, he made two trips to the disabled list and he was not a factor at the plate in the playoffs.
“I was battling myself for most of the year,” Walker said. “I just got in a place where I was treading water, trying to force things. I tried to do too much at certain times, and that's just not necessary. I know I'm a better player than what the numbers show.”
Regardless of what camp he's in, Walker has plenty to work on during spring training. He wants to get back to his roots as a gap-to-gap hitter.
Walker hit 16 home runs last season, the most by a Pirates second baseman since Bill Mazeroski slugged 16 in 1966. Yet, despite having about the same number of at-bats with runners in scoring position, Walker drove in fewer runs (53) than he did a year earlier (69).
In the wild-card game against the Cincinnati Reds, Walker doubled and went 2 for 5. But he was hitless in all 19 at-bats against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Division Series.
“It wasn't a lack of effort,” Walker said. “I tried to push things too much, and that was the wrong thing to do.”
There were some good stretches for Walker, too. After coming off the DL at the end of July, he put together a career-best nine-game hitting streak and batted .305 in August. In mid-September, Walker homered four times in a five-game stretch.
“He went about his business and busted his butt to be ready every day,” shortstop Clint Barmes said. “Everybody goes through struggles. I thought he handled it great.”
When asked about last season in general terms, Walker's first response had nothing to do with his personal high or low points. He talked about the thrill of being part of the first Pirates club in 21 years to reach the playoffs.
“You can already tell the success of last year has carried over to spring training,” Walker said. “You can feel the confidence. You can feel the sense of no matter who we have in here, we have a chance to win every night.
“It's the same for me individually. When you can prove to yourself, to each other and to a city that you're as good as you think you are, it can take you a long way.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates’ Dickerson also at home on soccer pitch
- Pirates notebook: Volquez, Morton struggle
- Pirates’ big risk with pitch-heavy draft focus might soon pay off
- Spring training breakdown: Red Sox 4, Pirates 1; Orioles 9, Pirates 2
- Stats Corner: McCutchen’s contract extension brings huge cost savings
- Pirates seek to tap Alvarez’s remaining upside
- Pirates notebook: Liriano looks to complete consecutive quality seasons