Pirates Notebook: Tabata Returns, Will Burnett Pitch a Rehab Start?

Jose Tabata

Jose Tabata will be given the chance to play right field every day. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jose Tabata is starting in right field Wednesday night as the Pirates take on the Philadelphia Phillies. The outfielder returned to the 25-man roster today after his nine-game rehabilitation (oblique) with Triple-A Indianapolis.

“It’s a little tight sometimes, especially when I wake up in the morning,” Tabata said. “After that, I feel great… I’m here today. Thank you, God.”

His first matchup is against left-hander John Lannan in place of Travis Snider. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Tabata has the chance to take away any worries about the team’s production in right field.

“He could definitely be that guy,” Hurdle said. “We’re gonna give him every opportunity to play, to get out there. He was working to a very good spot before the injury.”

Indeed, Tabata hit .340 with a .920 OPS over a month of games before his injury, and his season numbers in a small sample (.272/.337/.407) resembled the OPS he posted in his successful rookie year (.299/.346/.400).

“His play defensively, his running the bases, his swings of the bat were as good as I’ve ever seen him,” Hurdle said, adding that the idea of starting Gaby Sanchez as first base and Garrett Jones in right field “could still play.”

To Rehab or Not To Rehab?

Injured starter A.J. Burnett (right calf strain) may not make any rehab starts before he returns to the active roster. He threw a simulated game “without incident” Tuesday.

Hurdle would not commit either way to Burnett pitching a game or two in the minor leagues, but the decision may depend on how he pitches in Thursday’s bullpen session.

“I haven’t given in any other thought than taking it one day at a time,” Hurdle said. “He has his own personal feelings, if he can continue to do the work he thinks he needs to do.”

Drew Sutton and Surprises

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Drew Sutton Game, the Pirates’ comeback victory to take first-place in the NL Central that was capped by Sutton’s walkoff home run. It was his only Pittsburgh homer and his most recent in the Major Leagues, as the utility man now plays for Triple-A Pawtucket.

Winning teams need contributions from everyone, even a Sutton.

“Everybody has basically won a game for us,” Hurdle said. “Everybody out there in that clubhouse, and some guys that aren’t, have done something of significance.”

Starling Marte Pirates

Teammates have been impressed by Marte’s leadoff skills and fielding ability. (Photo credit: David Hague)

Jeff Locke (Wednesday’s starter) and Starling Marte were the players’ runaway choices for biggest surprises of the Pirates’ first half in a poll conducted by Santelli Anonymous Polling ™. Hurdle singled out those two, along with Russell Martin and Jeanmar Gomez, as players who have surpassed expectations.

“I love the way that Marte has adapted to the leadoff spot and the way he’s played left field,” Hurdle said. ”I love the way that Jeff Locke has melded into the rotation at this particular point in time. The last man standing.”

J-Mac Gets Positive News

Locke will look to continue his stellar first half (3rd in National League ERA) with his second-half debut. You’ll remember around this point last year, James McDonald held the NL’s 3rd best ERA before a poor second half, posting a 7.52 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 51 strikeouts and 38 walks.

James McDonald Pirates

James McDonald will not pitch again until at least late July, but his shoulder has no structural damage.

The 28-year-old will continue his shoulder rehabilitation after two or three weeks of rest. The right-hander saw Texas Rangers team physician Dr. Keith Meister, who said McDonald’s shoulder had inflammation and some tendinitis but looked good structurally.

“I rushed a little bit back,” McDonald said. “It’s good news to hear [Meister's diagnosis]. It’s better than hearing him saying, ‘Aw, this is bad.’ It sucks because you want to get on the field. I’m looking every day, checking to see what they’re doing. It’s exciting. I want to contribute.”

McDonald made six rehab starts in the minor leagues before the most recent setback took him off the mound. His words for Locke as the left-hander begins his second half in a similar situation as McDonald’s 2012?

“Do what you do, keep being you,” McDonald said. “Don’t put too much on your shoulders. You’ve got other guys behind you.”

Bonus Notes!

  • Switch-hitter Neil Walker will continue to get at-bats against lefties despite his poor season numbers (.241 OBP, no extra-base hits in 56 plate appearances). “It hasn’t been what we expected,” Hurdle said. “His 2010 season was pretty solid from the right side” with a .295/.344/.464 line that was similar to his performance as a left-handed hitter.
  • Right-hander Jeanmar Gomez is back in the Pirates’ bullpen after being a candidate for Tuesday’s start. Hurdle: ”It almost seems like he’s invisible. He just goes out there, gives you 75-80 pitches, no one dings him too much.”
  • Reliever Jared Hughes will travel to Florida “to continue his return to pitch progression,” the Pirates said. He said he felt good after Tuesday’s 35-pitch bullpen session.
  • The Pirates also updated us on minor league right-handed pitchers Phil Irwin and Kyle McPherson. Now I will update you. Irwin had surgery to “transpose the ulnar nerve,” which is big city talk for moving a nerve in his right elbow, and he will be out about two months. McPherson will see Dr. James Andrews late next week.
  • And while I’m here and you’re here (thanks for sticking around, by the way), I might as well pimp my Pirates Defensive Shifts treatise. I have been amazed by the positive response, and hope all of you who enjoyed it have a very handsome holiday. You’ve earned it.
James Santelli

Author: James Santelli

James covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects. He is a Broadcast Journalism student at USC and has written for such outlets as NBCOlympics.com, Pittsburgh Magazine and the official websites of the Los Angeles Clippers and Pittsburgh Penguins. James previously covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report. He also broadcasts play-by-play for the USC Trojans baseball team and was awarded the 2013 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship and Allan Malamud Scholarship. James dispenses puns at his Twitter account (@JamesSantelli) where he promises to write in first-person. Google

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