Sports Magazine

Steelreign : Neil Walker Healthy and Ready to Go

By Kipper @pghsportsforum

At PirateFest 2013, Pittsburgh Sports Forum was privileged enough to be invited to take part in an interview, along with other Pirates bloggers, Charlie Wilmoth and Vlad from Bucs Dugout and Tim Williams and Kevin Creagh from Pirates Prospects, with Pirates Second Baseman Neil Walker. It was a fun and interesting interview that Kipper and I were able to be a part of that began by Neil walker stating that he had successfully completed his rehab for his back injury and was fully into his off-season workouts and was ready for the season and the interview to begin.
PSF: Since you got to the Pirates, How has the environment changed? A few years ago it looked tense and stressful, now it looks like you're all having fun, like you're brothers.
NW: I think mentally in that 2009/2010 realm, I think the overall consensus was a sink or swim type of mentality, it was kind of like swimming upstream. Number one, it seemed like everything we did, nothing worked. Any type of mixture we tried to do didn't quite work, and here we are, two years later and our off-season acquisitions are a Catcher and a couple of pitchers and I think that is a testament to the core we have now, that we built, because two years ago it was like a 65% turnover from the end of the season roster to the spring training roster. Now we probably maybe have 4 or 5 new guys possibly on the 25 man roster? So that's impressive and we feel that in the clubhouse too, the confidence, not only from winning...and even though the season ended the way it ended, we know that feeling of wondering if we can compete in the National League Central, it's no longer there, and it was there for a couple of years in 09 and 2010. It's no longer there and if we could just find a way to beat Milwaukee on a regular basis, we'd be in real good shape.
PSF: With Jay Bell being the new hitting instructor, is he gonna change anything about the approach at the plate or is he gonna leave it up to you?
NW: Having a brief conversation with him today, it sounds like he is less about mechanics than he is talking about approach. I think that is something he was good at when he played....I don't know if he is going to try and change the full philosophy on our hitting approach, but there are areas that we're going to improve upon but i think that's more along the lines of growing as a team and getting experience. When you look at us as an offense and as many homeruns we hit, but also as many strikeouts as we had and our on base percentage as a team, it certainly wasn't very good. We have some very interesting mixtures where if we can find a happy medium, find a way to cut down on strikeouts and still hit homeruns....obviously everybody wants to do that.
PSF: You're coming out of a slump and you're tearing the cover off the ball then get injured. What's your mindset coming back to rediscover what got you out of your slump? Seems it would be hard
NW: It is, it's difficult. Baseball is such a funny game in that when things are going bad offensively your mind tends to turn to a bad place. If you've been striking out a lot lately
, you're thinking I've got to hit this first pitch. However when things are
going good, you're thinking throw anything you want. It doesn't matter if it's Roy Halladay or Kershaw, throw what you want because I'm gonna smash it. You have to find a way mentally to keep yourself in a good don't want to get too high or too low. It's difficult to do as a young player because a lot of guys hinder their success off hits, rbi's and have to believe in this process of approach. It's easy to get out of it and do what I call chasing hits. When you chase hits instead of sticking to your approach, you're in trouble....If you're thinking of I'm going to get a hit instead of I'm going to have a good at bat, you're mind is not where it needs to be and it's hard to get to that place.
PSF: When you're facing a Roy Halladay, sometimes it looks like hitters are looking for a pitch in a particular zone
. Is that the best way to approach certain pitchers?
NW: I think through scouting reports and through watching film, you have a very good idea, especially late in the count of how guys are going to try and get you out...there's a lot of times where if I know a sinkerballer is on the mound, Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse, I won't try and pull the ball at all. My focus is the middle of the field to left field. So I'll give up a little bit of the plate, because in all actuality, it's extremely hard to cover the entire plate...If i go and face Westbrook and Lohse on back to back nights and go 2 for 3 against him and 1 for 2 against the other, there's a good chance that the next time I face those guys I'm not going to be pitched the same way, especially if I get hits where I'm trying to get hits, the middle of the field, left-center
and left field. But their are special occasions where you'll sell out completely on certain guys and that's when you see guys take an 0-2 fastball down the middle and everybody's going "what the hell are ,you doing?" those situations there is a plan and an get two strikes on Roy Halladay, you're chances of getting a hit are extremely foul that 1-1 fastball, he's not throwing that same pitch again, you're getting his nastiest stuff...somewhere on the black.
PSF: Where do you prefer to hit, from the two hole or the five hole?
NW: That's interesting because hitting in the two hole in front of Andrew McCutchen is probably one of the best places to hit in all baseball because you get many, many fastballs. You can be a little more aggressive. You know you are gonna get strikes, but for me i feel more comfortable, I hit better with guys on base, but there's a give and take in that. If I look at my numbers this year, I hit better and feel more comfortable hitting in the two hole, but I drive in more runs and hit more homeruns in the five hole. In the two hole you're more of a table setter. I'm hoping that whatever Clint decides to do, I'll be able to do well in that spot. I think that I'm not much of a base stealing threat, but I hit a lot of doubles, my OBP is pretty good, but if they can find a leadoff guy, Starling Marte maybe, that can take a lot of pressure of the 2,3,4 and 5 guys.
For the rest of the Neil Walker interview, you can go over to Bucs Dugout and read their portion of the interview with Neil. Pittsburgh Sports Forum would like to thank Terry Rodgers of the Pirates Social Media Department for putting this together. It was a cool experience and a great night for Kipper and I at PirateFest 2013, Where the Pirates do a great job of connecting with the fans through various activities and Q and A sessions with the front office, coaches and players. Their excitement for the upcoming season carried over to the fans in attendance throughout the weekend and certainly has me ready for the 2013 season. LET"S GO BUCS!!!

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