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Stoic Bowker hoping to stick with Pirates

Pirates/MLB Videos

Thursday, March 24, 2011

BRADENTON, Fla. — There is a serious look on John Bowker's face as he tapes his wrist before batting practice. He wears the same visage during the game,

even if he happens to drive a pitch over the outfield wall.

Afterward, that stony expression remains. Even though Bowker is batting .313 this spring and is the Pirates' co-leader with three homers, he is not giddy with success.

Bowker has been here before, and it did not go as well as he had hoped.

A year ago, Bowker was torrid at the plate during spring training with the San Francisco Giants. He clubbed six homers, tying him for second most in the majors, and racked up 23 RBI.

"Last year was the first time I did that," Bowker said. "Usually I'm more of a slow starter. I usually don't swing that well in the spring or at the beginning of the season."

The Giants needed some pop, so Bowker broke camp with the team. He played in 18 games in April but went deep just once and batted .196. On June 4, with his average at .207, Bowker was demoted to Triple-A.

"The one thing he's been able to do throughout his career is light up the fastball," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The thing he's learning is, word gets around about that. They start spinning you, throwing first-pitch changeups."

It took three months and a trade for Bowker to make it back to the majors. The right fielder played in 26 games for the Pirates and hit .232 with two homers and 13 RBI.

Management was not wowed by Bowker's performance. During the offseason, the Pirates signed veteran Matt Diaz to platoon with Garrett Jones in right field.

"I've come off the bench before," Bowker said. "I think of myself as a good pinch-hitter because I usually give a good at-bat. If I can get a start every once in a while, too, that's a plus."

Bowker, 27, still is in camp, having survived the first three rounds of cuts. But he is not assured a roster spot as a backup corner outfielder.

Jones, infielder Pedro Ciriaco and catcher/outfielder Ryan Doumit seem to be locks for bench jobs. Another spot will go to a corner infielder. That leaves one spot for either Bowker or a third catcher, such as Jason Jaramillo.

If Bowker does not make the big league team, the Pirates would have to get him through waivers in order to send him back to the minors.

"I'm not trying to think too much about that," Bowker said. "I know I'm out of (minor league) options. I'm just trying to make a good impression because this is my first spring training with these guys."

Bowker had three hits in his first 10 at-bats this spring, then missed four games with a sore wrist. Since then, he's hit safely in nine of 13 games.

"He's had a good spring," Hurdle said. "You look for the quality of the at-bats and the ability to see pitches and not burn up at-bats in a hurry. He's done a lot of that since we gave him that time off. He's come back and done very, very well."

Additional Information:

Bowker by the numbers

Here are John Bowker's major league stats:

2008 (Giants): .255 average, 111 games, 10 home runs, 43 runs batted in

2009 (Giants): .194, 31, 2, 7

2010 (Giants): .207, 41, 3, 8

2010 (Pirates): .232, 26, 2, 13




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