PITTSBURGH, PA — There came a point in time that the Pirates organization had enough with outfielder Jose Tabata, and decided that a demotion to Triple-A Indianapolis would help him reignite his game. That move came on Tuesday, when Pittsburgh optioned him to Indianapolis and recalled outfielder Gorkys Hernandez.
The move, however, was focused on getting Tabata back on track, while getting consistent at-bats, reps, games and plays in Indy. While the Pirates have had a lot of hot bats swinging, playing time in the outfield hasn’t been consistent due to his struggles both on the field and at the plate.
“We’re in a competitive mode up here,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “He wasn’t playing to his expectations. He was trying to find a way to get some offensive traction and that wasn’t happening. I think to get him out of this environment can also provide some good. I think the challenge is just getting out of here. Once he gets down there, find the freedom and go play. He was battling it daily up here. We’ve gotten to that point where it just wasn’t able to happen.”
And it wasn’t from a lack of effort. Fans referred to Tabata as being “lazy” when taking routes to the balls in the outfield and even running balls out on the diamond. But Hurdle said he’s not a lazy player.
“I just think there’s some confusion going on right now,” Hurdle said. “You see balls drop in front of him. He wants to catch them. He doesn’t make a good first move and he backs off. It’s all about first movement, whether it be in the box, squaring the bat, there’s just some indecision. I think sometimes we get too much stuff going on upstairs. As I shared with him, We had to send Pedro [Alvarez] out last year. We sent Alex [Presley] out earlier. When there is too much noise, too much clutter mentally, it can confuse a player.”
Both Alvarez and Presley were sent to Triple-A to regain their focus and swing. Alvarez’s demotion came last season in Pittsburgh when he struggled to get the bat going and stay healthy. With Presley, the outfielder spent three weeks in the minors this year and saw an improvement in his confidence and approach at the plate.
The Pirates are hoping a trip to the minors for Tabata can help reignite that flame.
“I did get to see [Tabata] last April and May,” Hurdle said. “You saw the barrel of the bat. You saw some power. The ability to strike a breaking ball. You saw him run the bases with a reckless abandon. That’s a part of the game that’s been missing. Quick starts and jumps on stealing bases. Just the little things. He’s healthy and he knows it. He was sitting in this chair last night saying, ‘I get it. I’m accountable. I need to go find my way back.’ And it’s not from the lack of effort, but I think we need to rekindle the drive mechanism.”
After Hurdle had a sit down conversation in his office with Tabata, he said he understood the demotion and that he handled it well.
“We’ve had enough conversations along the way that I would be surprised if it was anything but professional,” Hurdle said. “He understands the greater good of the group out there now, that he wasn’t probably bringing his lunch pail everyday as well as some of the other guys. We’re in a very competitive frame of mind right now, very competitive spirit out there. When he’s playing, these guys are pulling for him. He wasn’t finding a way to finish at-bats or plays as well as he wanted to.”
“I just know that he’s not reacting as I’ve seen him react before. It’s not a weight issue, it’s not a conditioning issue. He has gone out of his way as far as his activation and conditioning work that he’s done. He’s been one of the guys at the top of the board. But the game readiness, those kind of things are what’s not clicking.”
The move to bring up Gorkys Hernandez instead of one of their top prospects in Starling Marte caused quite a stir from the fan base. While Marte has been swinging a hot bat — over his last 10 games, the outfielder has hit for a .457/.490/.870 line — the move to bring Marte up too early can cause harm on a young player. On the season, Marte is hitting .291, but just a few weeks ago, that average was hovering around the .260 mark.
When bringing up a talented player like Marte, you want him to be recalled to play everyday and for good. Hurdle said when deciding to demote Tabata, there were not yet conversations on promoting Marte instead.
“At this point, no,” Hurdle said. “We’re well aware of what Starling is doing down there. He’s played center field, he’s played left field. We moved him to right field last night. Just so he’s going to have experience in all three areas. His development is heading in the right direction. The strikeouts to walks have picked up dramatically, the chases outside the zone have picked up dramatically.”
“Young players, when you’ve been aggressive moving them, the challenges that have come with that a year or two after versus being more patient with players… Is there ever a perfect equation to follow to get them here right on time where you know you’re 100 percent right? No, there’s not. But there’s a gut feel. You want to give them time and you don’t like to see them go through some of the challenges like Pedro’s had to go through and Presley’s had to go through. And in this case, what Tabata’s going trough right now.”