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Pirates' outfielder Tabata looks to regain his swagger at the plate

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

HOENIX — It's obvious that Pirates right fielder Jose Tabata hasn't been comfortable at the plate this season.

The .133 batting average Tabata lugged into Monday night's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, of course, is a huge red flag. But it's apparent, too, in Tabata's body language.

"What we normally see from Tabby is, when he gets into a good stretch, there's some swagger," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Stuck in a 1-for-20 funk, Tabata doesn't have the same hop in his step when he grabs a bat in the dugout. He fidgets in the batter's box, seemingly unsure of himself at times.

Hurdle said a mental adjustment might help.

"Why not just take the swagger out there first?" Hurdle said. "Sometimes, you've got to trick yourself into things. Don't always wait around to have a pocket of money before you feel rich. Just feel rich. Walk around like you're rich and you'll start believing you're rich. Before you know it, you find some money."

Tabata said he has not changed his swing mechanics or approach at the plate. And he said it makes no difference to him whether he bats leadoff (where he's gone 2 for 12 in three games) or second in the order.

"It's all the same. Doesn't matter," Tabata said. "Right now, I'm just not hitting. I'm not making good contact. I'm a little late on pitches. I need more concentration, better timing."

Hurdle was encouraged by one of Tabata's at-bats last week against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Tabata worked through a half-dozen pitches, then hit one hard to right field. On Sunday, however, Tabata went 0 for 5 and stranded seven baserunners.

Batting woes have vexed Tabata since spring training. Although he batted .294 in 22 Grapefruit League games, Tabata hit just three doubles and no homers.

"He didn't drive the ball the way we'd seen him do it before," Hurdle said. "We continue to work on that. He's still struggling to find it."

Part of the problem could be that Tabata's 2011 season was cut short by a sore hamstring and a small fracture in his left hand. Tabata played in only 91 games and hit .266.

Tabata had a busy offseason. In addition to rehabbing his hand and leg, he and his wife welcomed their first baby. Perhaps Tabata simply needs more time to get up to speed.

"I've seen enough (last year) to know Tabata can do it," Hurdle said.

When he talks about his slump, Tabata insists he's still confident. He even lets out a hint of his old swagger.

"I'm in a slump, but I know I can hit. I trust myself," Tabata said.

"Pitchers are throwing very well right now. But it's a long season. I'm not worried about my numbers right now. I'll look at them at the end of the season."

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