Throughout Grapefruit League action, Alex Presley got the majority of the starts batting leadoff. Jose Tabata followed in the two spot. The trend continued into the regular season with Presley hitting first for the first three games. But on game four of the season, Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle decided to switch the lineup up, inserting Tabata into the leadoff spot, allowing Presley to hit second.
Hurdle said he will pick and choose matchups throughout the season, with both getting the opportunity to bat leadoff.
“Just a different look,” Hurdle said. “Both of them have led off for us. Both of them have done well. We looked at this a few times during spring training…I think it’s something we have the opportunity to do more of if we need to, if it works, if it feels good.”
Presley hit leadoff in 43 games during the 2011 season. He hit for a .302/.347/.473 line in 182 at-bats — compared to a .258/.281/.419 line in 31 at-bats batting second.
“It’s really important [to get on base] because you want set the tone for the team off the bat,” Presley said of his mindset batting leadoff. “I did a pretty good job last year with that in the first inning. It kick starts the team and sets the tone for the whole day so it’s an important spot.”
The left fielder Presley was the only Bucco to have hit safely in each of the team’s first five games. He entered Thursday’s game as a late inning replacement, going 0-for-1. Entering Friday’s game action, Presley is hitting for a .318/.318/.318 line. He has a .300/.337/.451 line over the last two years with the Pirates.
Tabata has had a slower start to the season. Over five games, Tabata is hitting for a .190/.227/.190 line with a stolen base. Despite the slow start, Hurdle believes both have qualities to be successful at the top of the order.
“You want guys that can get on base up top,” Hurdle said. “You want guys who can move the ball, stay behind the ball, hit the ball the other way. Tabby does it from the right side, Alex can do it from the left side. It’s more pull, but it’s still getting that ball in the hole opportunity when somebody’s on. Tabby is more geared up to hit that hole from the right side, Alex is more geared up to hit it more from the pull side. He hits more balls that way then he does the other. They both can drive a runner in from first base in that spot as well. You can hit and run with them, they can handle an at-bat.”
Walker Working to Improve vs. Lefties
Second baseman Neil Walker got the day off on Thursday in the Pirates final game of the three-game set against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 26-year-old has struggled at the plate to start the 2012 season. Walker has connected for just one hit , a single and drew a walk, over five games.
“I think right now we’ve got some guys that have had a little more success against left-handed pitching then Neil has,” Hurdle said. “He’s really trying to improve upon, working hard to get better at that. So we’re going to add some guys that I think that can step up in front of him. He’s worked hard. I think he’s in a better place this year, then he was last year. We’ll see how that plays out now. He’s had some good at-bats this spring from the right side. A lot of hard work was put in.”
Walker hit for a .269/.322/.350 line against left-handers during the 2011 season. He picked up his lone hit off a right-hander in 2012.
Roster Decision to Come by Saturday
Manager Clint Hurdle has a tough decision to make by Saturday. Right-hander Charlie Morton is eligible to return off the disabled list on Friday, and is expected to make his 2012 debut on Saturday in San Franciso against the Giants.
The club chose to have an extra bat on the bench to start the season in place of Morton, instead of an extra arm in the ‘pen. Either Matt Hague, Josh Harrison or Yamaico Navarro will be optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis in order to make room for Morton on the 25-man roster.
Both Harrison and Navarro were inserted into the lineup on Thursday — the first starts for both players so far this season. Prior to the starts, Harrison had one hit (a double) in his only pinch-hit at-bat. Navarro, too, had only seen pinch-hit at-bats where he’s drawn two walks and struck out once. Hague on the other hand, has gotten three starts in part of a double platoon with a left-hander on the mound. The first baseman collected his first Major League hit against the Phillies at PNC Park, an RBI single to tie the game.
Burnett to Make Triple-A Start
Right-hander A.J. Burnett will make his next rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis on April 16. Burnett had a rough outing his last trip to the mound on Wednesday for High-A Bradenton. The right-hander tossed a perfect first, but wasn’t able to make it out of the second inning.
Burnett allowed back-to-back hits to start the 2nd, then a RBI double to right. He struck out his next batter, but reached first on a wild pitch allowing a second run to score. Burnett gave up two more RBI hits before getting his first out of the inning. After getting a strikeout swinging, Burnett hit his next batter, then gave up a walk before getting pulled from the game. Overall, Burnett allowed eight runs (five earned) on six hits over 1.2 innings. He walked one and struck out four.
Pirates General Manager Clint Hurdle said he would like Burnett to get to 100 pitches during a rehab start in the minors before rejoining the club. Burnett will shoot for 80-85 pitches on the 16th.