It's his time: Neil Walker enjoys a resurgence of productivity for Pirates
July 25, 2014 11:35 AM
The Pirates' Neil Walker reacts as he rounds first base after hitting a walk-off home run in the 10th inning in March.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's a fact that Neil Walker was passed over for the All-Star Game earlier this month. But has it served as ammunition for what is clearly turning out to be the best season of his career?
He's not going there.
"Important, sure. It would've been awesome to make the All-Star team," said Walker, adding that "my focus is on helping the team win."
Walker has reached base safely in 21 consecutive games after drawing a walk Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, marking the longest active streak in the majors.
He leads all National League second basemen with 15 home runs, a .356 on-base percentage, an .825 OPS, and ranks second with 48 RBIs, one behind Arizona's Aaron Hill.
His second-half numbers have shot up considerably, with a .455 batting average since the halfway point passed, with two home runs and five RBIs. Granted that's only about 21/2 weeks, but the curve is trending upward.
"I've traditionally been good the second half of the season, I don't think that's too out of norm for me," said Walker, smiling. "I typically start slow and finish strong."
Manager Clint Hurdle stopped short of crediting the All-Star snub as Walker's motivation, but does see a drive to produce at the plate.
"I don't think there's a player that doesn't want to make the team who has put up numbers to get in that position to have a conversation about," said Hurdle. "I think a player of Neil's ilk, once it didn't happen? [It was] all right, what's the next carrot in front of me? That's to be the most-productive offensive player I can be in my team's lineup to help us get to the postseason."
Walker is hitting .281 from the left side against right-handed pitchers, and .292 from the right side against left-handers. He credits his health as the biggest reason for his productivity.
"I've been doing the same thing I've been doing. I was healthy this offseason, healthy going into the year," said Walker. "I started to swing a hot bat at the end of last year. Mechanically, nothing's changed. It's just been a thought process of getting my swing off and finding barrels ... there's really nothing more to it. I'm getting my swing off more consistently than I have in my career."
He did not need to spend time rehabbing or returning to form during spring training. With a short blip after an emergency appendectomy put him on the disabled list -- also the likely reason he missed that All-Star Game -- Walker has been consistent all season.
"At the plate, I didn't feel good for two, almost three weeks," said Walker. "I grinded it out, worked hard. I knew how I felt before I went on the DL. I knew I'd get back to that place, it was just a matter of when."
He's one homer shy of the career-high 16 he delivered last season, but said he doesn't view himself as a power hitter, still a gap-to-gap guy.
"That hasn't changed. That will never change, from at least my vantage point, and how I see myself and approach my at-bats and what not," said Walker. "But I think as you get older, smarter, as you accumulate at-bats you start to understand what makes you better as a hitter. You look for certain pitches, you get 'em, don't miss 'em and hit them out of the ballpark.
"There were times I found myself earlier in my career trying to hit home runs, and that just doesn't work."
■ Game: Pirates vs. Rockies, 8:40 p.m. Coors Field.
■ TV, Radio: Root Sports, KDKA FM (93.7).
Jenn Menendez firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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