Pirates Notebook: Walker takes Iwamura's place
Neil Walker, in his first day as the Pirates' regular second baseman, went 2 for 4 with a lineout and a deep flyout Monday at PNC Park.
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Neil Walker is the Pirates' new second baseman, and Aki Iwamura is on the bench.
That was the word Monday morning from manager John Russell, who informed both players that Walker would be getting "the majority of playing time" at second base and that Iwamura would be reduced to a reserve role, used sometimes at second, other times at third, which was his original position in Japan.
Second is not Walker's natural position -- he was a catcher when drafted out of Pine-Richland High School, then a third baseman for two years before trying multiple positions this year -- but it is the one where he best fits into the team's long-term view. Pedro Alvarez, the system's top prospect, will play third base when he arrives, probably sometime this month.
"Neil's done a nice job," Russell said in explaining the decision. "Obviously, he needs to keep developing at second. It's not his natural position, but he's done some very good things. We're not by any means giving him the job. We'll see how it goes. We'll put him out there for the majority of time right now. I look forward to seeing him develop there."
Of Iwamura, Russell added: "He'll go to the bench. That's not to say he'll never play. We'll get him some work and see where we go."
The differences in the performances of the two -- Walker went 2 for 4 Monday in the 2-1 victory against the Chicago Cubs and is batting .321 in a week since being recalled from Class AAA Indianapolis, Iwamura .172 over 45 games -- was as sizable as the difference in their reactions.
"I feel great, obviously. I'm really happy," Walker said. "But at the same time, there's a lot of work to be done. I feel very fortunate to have this chance. The most important thing is doing whatever I can to help this team win."
On his comfort level at second: "There's a lot of work to be done. But I do feel confident, I do feel comfortable. I feel like I can make the plays, and I've got a lot of people right now helping me a ton."
Iwamura walked away when asked a question by a Pittsburgh reporter, but he later granted a group interview with three Japanese reporters.
"I'm going to stay positive," Iwamura told those reporters. "Even when I was in Japan, I had to fight for my job, and I'm going to keep fighting here. Of course, I can see that Neil Walker was hitting better. But I felt I was getting better in May."
Iwamura, 31, is the Pirates' highest-paid player at $4.85 million, and no team would take him in a trade. He still could be released -- someone will have to go when injured first baseman Steve Pearce returns, and when Alvarez and outfielder Jose Tabata are promoted -- but that would be an especially bitter pill for management, given that infielder Ramon Vazquez was released this spring at a cost of $2 million. If Iwamura were released today, he would be owed $3.29 million for the rest of the season.
Russell, on Iwamura's reaction: "No player is going to like being told he's going to the bench after he was an everyday player. He wasn't happy about it, and that's to be expected."
Andy LaRoche, the current third baseman, has not taken any grounders at second even though he clearly will have to move upon Alvarez's arrival. Russell said the team's immediate concern with LaRoche is getting his back healthy.
Frank Coonelly, the Pirates' president, issued a statement after the victory Monday to praise the crowd of 20,235.
"Today, Pirates fans literally willed the club to a much-needed win at PNC Park," Coonelly said. "Despite coming off a very tough road trip, Pirates fans came out in impressive numbers for this Memorial Day game and provided the guys with an energetic boost. From the first pitch to the last strikeout in the ninth, the crowd was fully behind the guys as they fought for a tough win to start the homestand. Our fans' faith and support is much appreciated by the players and the entire organization."
Coonelly said the game-day sale of 4,459 tickets was third-largest of the season, trailing two games in which there were promotions.
The Washington Nationals announced Monday night that Stephen Strasburg, the top pitching prospect in baseball in a decade, will make his major-league debut June 8 against the Pirates in D.C. .
The Pirates' rotation currently lines up so that Jeff Karstens, the starter tonight, would oppose Strasburg. But there are two off-days between now and then, and management is looking into skipping a turn or two. Expect Zach Duke, who tends to embrace pressure situations, to get serious consideration.
• Reliever D.J. Carrasco, held out of the past five games, had a tight left hamstring but is expected to be available tonight. He warmed up during the game Monday.
• Indianapolis starter Donnie Veal's appointment with Dr. James Andrews to examine his injured left elbow is later this week. That will be a second opinion. Neal Huntington, the Pirates' general manager, declined to divulge details of the initial opinion, other than that it involves the ulnar collateral ligament.
• The Pirates made a minor trade to reacquired Class AAA outfielder Jonathan Van Every from Boston for Class A infielder Josue Peley. Van Every played for Indianapolis Monday night.
First Published June 1, 2010 12:00 am