Pirates notebook: Walker's slow start a fading memory

Picks up average after toiling early

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PHOENIX -- There was no sense of panic in second baseman Neil Walker when the first week of the season did not go quite as he had hoped.

He had gone through slumps before. He will go through slumps again.

This one, though, received a bit of attention because it happened at the start of the season -- and his statistics looked just plain awful.

"This is baseball. This is the hardest sport in the world," Walker said. "It's normal for people -- at some point during the season -- to have a tough stretch. But when you start off kind of slow, it's more magnified because of what the numbers look like. And everybody wants to look at numbers."

Those numbers did not look good for Walker, who was hitting .048 through the first seven games of the season with one hit and no RBIs.

He added little to what manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington called a "two-man offense," buoyed by Andrew McCutchen and Casey McGehee.

But, other than putting in some extra work in the batting cages, Walker did not change much in his approach. It is, after all, an approach that has produced a career .277 batting average in a little more than two seasons.

And it appears that approach has helped the switch-hitting infielder turn around his recent slump, too.

Hurdle is encouraged by Walker's recent offensive turnaround -- he entered Monday hitting .172, going 4 for 8 with two RBIs in his previous two games.

"He's been working," Hurdle said. "And he's been able to commit to something, stay with it. He's got some results. The results are always going to bring more confidence than anything else. We are tangible. We want to see things. We want to have something to hold onto after the hard work."

Walker's early season woes came about the same time the rest of the offense struggled to scrape together runs. As was the case with his own difficulties, Walker said the key to finding a good rhythm is focusing on the routine, not the results.

"It's made for tough going early on," he said. "We obviously haven't hit our stride yet in terms of playing as a team, especially on the offensive end. Those things will continue to improve and continue to get better. They already have gotten better.

"People can say whatever they want. It's not going to change how we go about our business here. ... Our job is to go out there, collectively, and give ourselves the best chance of winning. We haven't done that as well as we could the first week here, but there's 150-some games left."

Burnett struggles

A.J. Burnett struggled in a Class AAA rehabilitation start Monday night in Indianapolis against Toledo. He lasted four innings and allowed five earned runs on seven hits, including two home runs. He walked four and did not record any strikeouts.

Burnett threw 81 pitches, 52 for strikes. It was his third rehab start of the season after fracturing orbital bone at the start of spring training.

Fitz on the field

Former Pitt football standout Larry Fitzgerald worked out with the Diamondbacks Monday at Chase Field to promote his celebrity softball game, to be played this weekend in the Phoenix area.

"Going to school in Pittsburgh, I am a Pirate fan," said Fitzgerald, an All-Pro wide receiver with the Arizona Cardinals. "I always pulled for them when I was in school. But now, being out here in Arizona, I'm a Diamondbacks guy now."

Fitzgerald said he and his college roommate, Tyler Palko, spent a lot of time at PNC Park during their college careers, and he even attended the 2006 All-Star Game at PNC Park.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Larry Fitzgerald First Down Fund, which supports breast cancer research, the Boys and Girls Club and other charities.

He took grounders from Matt Williams, the Diamondbacks third-base coach, and chatted up outfielder Justin Upton and infielders Stephen Drew and John McDonald. He and fellow Cardinals teammate Patrick Peterson took a picture with McCutchen on the field before the game.

Though Fitzgerald scooped grounders and shagged fly balls, he did not step into the cage for batting practice.

"Every man has to know his limitations," Fitzgerald said, "and the batting cage is not my friend."


First Published April 17, 2012 12:00 AM


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