WEEKLY PIRATES REPORT
By John Perrotto
When Neil Walker (.260 – 1 HR – 12 RBI) hit his one and only home run so far this season on May 5, the Pirates second baseman snapped a streak of 172 consecutive plate appearances without a home run that dated back to last Sept. 5.
The length of Walker’s home run drought was surprising. What was even more surprising was that Walker said afterward that “I don’t consider myself a power hitter.”
That raised the eyebrows of Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. While Pirates management doesn’t expect 30 home runs a season from the switch-hitting Walker, they feel he is more than a singles
“He has power, it’s in there,” Hurdle said. “I think sometimes when guys go through spells where they don’t hit for power, it’s because they aren’t getting pitches that they an elevate. A lot of times it’s more a case of a pitcher throwing a home run than a hitter hitting a home run.”
That could be the case but Walker’s power has been disappearing since his rookie season in 2010 when he hit 12 home runs and slugged .462 in 469 plate appearances.
He hit 12 home runs again last season but they came in 662 plate appearances and his slugging percentage dipped to .408. Going into tonight’s game against the Nationals at Washington,
Walker has six extra-base hits and a .323 slugging percentage in 140 plate appearances.
So why is Walker no longer a power hitter?
He gives two reasons. One is because he switch hits and his priority is make sure his swing is as compact as possible from both side of the plate. Secondly, PNC Park is not a home run haven.
“I’m not saying I’m never going to hit home runs again,” Walker said. “It’s not like I’ve given up on ever doing it but I’d be crazy to try to hit home runs (at PNC Park), especially when I’m
hitting from the right side. You’ve really got to crush it to get it out in the gaps and I consider myself a gap hitter more than a pull guy.”
Could the 26-year-old Walker eventually become more of a pull hitter as he gets older?
“I think it’s going to be hard to do as a switch-hitter,” Walker said. “I have two different swings I need to maintain and it’s easy to get out of your swing when you start trying to pull the ball instead of using the whole field.”
In other matters:
–As fun as it would be to see what Josh Harrison (.222 – 1 HR – 8 RBI) could do with regular playing time, he is not going to replace Clint Barmes as the everyday shortstop. The Pirates feel Harrison isn’t good enough defensively to play the position on a regular basis and also believe he would be exposed as a hitter if he played every day.
–And as fun as it would be to see outfielder Starling Marte (.260 – 2 HR – 11 RBI) get called up from Class AAA Indianapolis to possibly give the Pirates’ offense a boost, that isn’t going to happen either. The Pirates feel Marte is still a raw talent and needs a full season of development at the Class AAA level.
–Can’t help but wonder what Alex Presley (.220 – 2 HR – 7 RBI), who got off to a great start as the starting left fielder this season, might have done if Hurdle and hitting coach Gregg Ritchie hadn’t started tinkering
with his swing when he was going well.
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball for 25 years.