Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Tabata Back in Groove

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Tabata Back in Groove

Article excerpt

BRADENTON

SPRING TRAINING: Pirates outfielder fighting to reclaim his job back

While the Pirates were flirting with first place early last July, Jose Tabata was playing for Triple-A Indianapolis where Pittsburgh's Opening Day right fielder had been optioned after hitting .230 in 72 games.

That six-week demotion is what's driving the Pirates' 24-year- old this spring as he tries to scramble back to becoming an everyday player that the Pirates expected when general manager Neal Huntington awarded him a $15 million guaranteed contract less than two years ago.

"It's hard because when you're in the big leagues, you feel comfortable," Tabata said, after going 1-for-2 Monday in the Pirates' 4-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox before 7,804 fans at drizzly McKechnie Field. "But when you go back (to the minors), it's like I lost everything. But at the same time, I had to work hard in Triple-A and come back to the big leagues."

"He didn't handle the demotion as well as he needed to," Huntington said. "But he learned very quickly where he needed to go with it."

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has been impressed with Tabata's outfield play this spring, even as he's hitting only .222. Tabata finished Monday's game in left field after pinch-hitting in the sixth inning.

"You're seeing a guy that's playing with freedom and aggressiveness," Hurdle said. "I think some valuable lessons were learned last year. He'll be the first one to tell you, you don't know how many chances you're going to get."

Huntington is taking heat for handing Tabata a rich contract in 2011, that will keep Tabata under the team's control until 2019. He had only one good season, when he hit .299 in 2010 with four home runs and 35 RBI in 102 games, and he was in the process of hitting .266 with four home runs and 21 RBI in 91 games in 2011.

"We had a 21-year-old coming off a season in which he hit .300, who was showing developing power, that was one of six right-handed hitters to hit a home run above the 'Clemente Wall' (at PNC Park)," Huntington said. …

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