Pirates Notebook: Walker Heats Up in July; Why Pitch to McCutchen?

Just like the months in the summer heat up, so does Neil Walker at the plate. After hitting .278 in April and .238 in the month of May, Walker’s bat has started to become red hot in July.

“I feel good at the plate,” Walker said. “And I’m happy about that. July is usually a good month for me. When the weather gets hot, I start to feel a lot better.”

And the second baseman has numbers to prove it. During the 2010 season Walker hit for a .319 average and an .825 OPS. Last year he had a .366 average and an .889 OPS. So far this July, Walker has hit for a .471/.538/.912 line entering Saturday’s game.

On Saturday at Miller Park, Walker struck out in his first at-bat, but drew a walk and scored on an Andrew McCutchen home run in his second. With a hit streak on the line, Walker came through in the seventh frame with a single to right field to extended his hit streak to 14 games. It marks the longest by a Pirate this season and is just four shy of his career-best 18 he set in 2010.

Walker went 2-for-3 on the day and pushed his season average to .294. The second baseman attributes not just the hot weather to his hotter swing, he also said confidence is key.

“Just stepping in the box and having confidence,” Walker said. “Not trying to do too much. When I can get back into the middle of the field, it simplifies things. It’s easier said than done because I tried to do it for a good two months early on in the season. I battled with it. I got to a point where I stepped into the box and my focus stopped being on mechanics, or this and that, what he’s trying to throw and really just started looking over the heart of the plate and start driving the ball.”


Why Do Teams Keep Pitching to McCutchen?

Back in mid-May, Andrew McCutchen was riding a very hot streak at the plate. After hitting for a .396 average and seven home runs, 13 RBI and a .900 slugging over his first 16 games that month, he was asked after the game a question that many have wondered most of this season — Why do teams keep pitching to you?

“I don’t know,” McCutchen said with a laugh.

Manager Clint Hurdle, too, was asked.

“Some of it, I just think they think they can get him out,” Hurdle said. “The guy that day thinks he can get him out. That’s about all I got. They think they can get him out.”

But this center fielder isn’t an easy bat to get out.

Milwaukee’s Marco Estrada was feeling confident on the mound. The right-hander struck out the side in the first inning, the third came to McCutchen on a 2-2 changeup in the dirt. But McCutchen won his next at-bat.

After Estrada struck out a pair to start the third frame, Neil Walker worked a walk. The All-Star stepped to the plate and fouled the first pitch off. After missing his next pitch on a changeup, Estrada left a 91 MPH fastball over the heart of the plate. And this time, McCutchen made him pay.

McCutchen crushed the pitch to right-center field for his 20th long ball of the season. The 25-year-old, who leads the team in homers, even stood and watched at the plate for a second before dropping his bat and running around the bases for the two-run shot. McCutchen has now homered in three straight games for the first time in his career.

McCutchen continues to have an impressive MVP worthy season. He has a Major-League leading .367 average after finishing 1-for-3 on the day. Since June 16, McCutchen has hit safely in all but three of his 23 games, going 44-for-94 (.468) with seven doubles, two triples, nine home runs, 26 RBI and 26 runs scored.


Team Chemistry

The Pirates are actively perusing a bat at the trade deadline again this year.  While the club has been linked to several veteran outfielders and third baseman, how a new player affects the team chemistry is important. Manager Clint Hurdle has said before that when they bring a new player into the clubhouse, their makeup is just as important as what they bring on the field or at the plate.

Pittsburgh’s clubhouse is full of team chemistry and adding a new player to that mix can help a new player, whether it be through trade or from the minors, feel more comfortable.

“I think it helps anybody who walks up the street and comes in here,” Hurdle said. “When people feel comfortable, when people feel they are cared about, where there’s trust, when everybody’s got everybody’s back, and there’s no working for playing time, everybody pulls for one another out there. It can only help.”

“There’s been a few that have come back and forth a number of times and they look forward to coming back. And not just because it’s the big leagues. That’s a given.”

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