If you based things off last season, Jose Tabata should not be wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. He appeared overmatched and afraid of any close pitches and failed to run many hits out, which meant his job was on the line in spring training.
I talked to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle at PirateFest this past December about Tabata and Alex Presley and what they had to do to earn spots on the team.
“Consistency,” Hurdle said. “They both have shown skill sets that are productive at the major league level on the bases, in the outfield and at the plate. At this level you create separation with consistent play, repeating your swing, repeating your defense, getting on base and making things happen.
“Both need to spike their on-base percentage, be more productive at the top of the lineup and both need to continue playing with that edge we’ve seen them have periodically. It needs to be more consistent.”
If we fast forward to the spring, we saw a totally different Tabata. He had quality at-bats, showed some pop in his bat and really appeared much more confident at the plate.
A lot of times, spring training can determine those final roster spots, and Tabata benefited from that as he made the team. Countless times statistics from spring have been deceiving, but Tabata has made the most of his opportunities and now carried a .286 batting average into late May.
“I felt great going into spring training,” Tabata said to me earlier in the season. “I worked hard with my hitting coach, my trainers and taking my licks. After last season, I worked hard in Miami and it’s why I feel more comfortable. Last year was a bad year for me so I don’t want to remember that.”
Tabata’s main role has been to come off the bench, and perform whenever he is called upon. Unlike last season, it is clear that Tabata’s work is paying off and that motivation clearly has made him enjoy the game that much more.
At the start of the season, Tabata played sparingly. His luck started to turn after he was called on April 13 against the Cincinnati Reds and got a pinch-hit double.
“It’s one of the hardest things to do in baseball, and the ball was absolutely blistered,” Hurdle said to me after that game. “We haven’t had a lot of results from our pinch hitters. Any time you can add a run late against that lineup, it benefits your bullpen and everyone involved.”
Because he played so little early, his batting average was just .200 after the May 8 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Now it is up to .286.
Hurdle is clearly feeling much more confident about Tabata and the proof is that after May 8, he has registered at least one plate appearance in eight straight games. In the last seven days, Tabata has hit .444 with eight hits, a homer and three runs batted in. Tabata also made a great defensive play in the first inning of Tuesday’s victory against the Brewers.
All told, Tabata is looking much better. However, fans have not noticed it since he is not a starter, something he was on opening day last season. It has been a hard road back, but Tabata is clearly much more focused and most importantly has found himself again as a player.
“I’m trying to be myself,” Tabata said. “When I go out there, I do my job.”