Tabata a hit as Pirates' leadoff man
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Jose Tabata bounced out to shortstop to end the Pirates' 6-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies Sunday. That was totally unexpected. I thought he would prolong the game with another hit. Actually, I thought he might tie it with a home run. He has been so hot, I was afraid to shake his hand when I congratulated him on his fast start.
As it turns out, all the credit goes to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle's gut for the decision to bat Tabata leadoff instead of Andrew McCutchen, a more popular choice with many fans and media.
"You just hope it isn't indigestion," Hurdle said.
I'm guessing Hurdle had a bad case of that during the game Sunday, the Pirates' third loss in their first four home games after a 4-2 start on the road. He watched his pitchers issue seven walks, including three in a forgettable four-batter stretch by rookie Mike Crotta in the decisive seventh inning.
But none of Hurdle's stomach discomfort had to do with Tabata, who found his way on base three more times by getting hit by a pitch in the third inning, singling in the fourth to extend his major league-best hitting streak to 10 games and walking in the seventh. With 13 hits, seven walks and the hit by pitch in 46 plate appearances, his on-base percentage is a terrific .457.
"There's no way you can't like what you've seen from him," Hurdle said. "He's been everything and more that you want in your leadoff hitter."
Tabata gave the Pirates a chance to win three out of four against the Rockies instead of lose three of four. He hit a home run in the fifth inning Friday night and drove in the winning run with a double off the Clemente Wall in right field in the 14th. He had another home run in the 6-4 loss Saturday night.
"His power is going to come, I have no doubt about that," Hurdle said. "What did it take Clemente? Six years to get to double figures in home runs?"
No one is predicting Tabata will have the Hall of Fame career with the Pirates that his idol, Roberto Clemente, had. But at 22, he is off to some start. He is hitting .342 this season after a .299 season after his June call-up from Class AAA Indianapolis last year. His 106 hits since the 2010 All-Star break are more than any player's in the big leagues.
"I play for my team," Tabata said. "Every day, I think I need to do something. I want to be on base every day. I want to be consistent."
Hurdle appreciates the kid's attitude, not to mention that .457 on-base percentage.
"He's got plate discipline. He takes long looks. He's got a sharp eye and a quick bat."
That's why it was easy for Hurdle to trust "my eyes and my gut" and bat Tabata in the leadoff spot. "I just thought, 'Let's give him the first shot and see what he does with it.' "
That Tabata took the opportunity and ran with it -- literally, considering his five stolen bases -- is a credit to him. But it's also a credit to Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. Heaven knows he has taken a beating for many of his trades, most recently last week when his decision to release pitcher Craig Hansen left the team with only Class AA pitcher Bryan Morris from the Jason Bay trade in 2008. But how about a little love for Huntington for getting Tabata from the New York Yankees in the Xavier Nady trade in '08? It's hardly breaking news to report that deal has been a steal for the Pirates.
Tabata showed all of us that this was possible in the spring and summer of '09. It isn't every young player who shows up for spring training and, while trying to impress the bosses, has to deal with an uncomfortable personal situation under intense pubic scrutiny. Tabata made national news and endured plenty of ridicule when the story broke that his former wife lied to him about being pregnant and lied to him when she told him the baby she brought home was his. In August 2010, Amalia Tabata Pereira, who is 23 years older than Tabata, pleaded guilty in Florida to kidnapping the child.
Maybe you were like me. I wondered about Tabata's maturity. Then, he went out and had a fine year with Class AA Altoona and Indianapolis in '09 and had his breakout year in the big leagues last season. His success has merely carried over into this season.
Clearly, maturity is not a problem for Tabata. You think he is going to be rattled trying to hit a low-and-away slider with a game on the line? After what he has been through?
Much has been said and written during the Pirates' 5-5 start about second baseman Neil Walker (.300 average, 2 home runs, 9 RBIs), McCutchen (two home runs, six RBIs) and Pedro Alvarez (strong defense at third base).
I'm not sure Tabata won't end up being the best of the team's young players.
That's what my gut is telling me, anyway.
First Published April 11, 2011 12:00 am