After a week of hitting batting practice long balls in Pirate City, Tabata again showcased the air in his new swing on Monday with a sacrifice fly to drive in the winning run in the Blacks' 2-1 victory over the Golds in the annual intrasquad game at McKechnie Field. Yeah, a sacrifice fly by a guy who had zero sacrifice flies in 715 plate appearances in 2012-13.
Twice last year, the Bucs cropped Tabata from the 40-man roster and sent him outright to the Minors, a transaction veterans can refuse and become a free agent. Tabata accepted the walking papers both times.
So the Pirates extended him another lifeline, encouraging him to seek former short-lived teammate Marlon Byrd's help in doctoring his swing. The Pirates have not given up on Tabata, because they can't afford to -- the contract he preserved by accepting those Minor League assignments pays him $4 million this season, making him the team's fourth-highest-paid position player, whether he is on the team or not.
Tabata was to pick Byrd's brain and learn how he was able to increase his homer production from 10 in 589 at-bats in 2011-12, to 24 in the 2013 season, the last month of which he spent in Pittsburgh. Byrd complied, urged by his agent (Tabata originally was with the same agency) "to help each other out."
Omitting the more complex parts, Byrd drilled into Tabata the importance of "transferring the energy of your swing to the ball."
"The story with Tabata was that he had his hands back and was spending more of the energy out of the [strike] zone," Byrd elaborated to MLB.com. "So he started to slice the ball to right field. I told him, 'You have to get more extension through the zone.'
"We do all kinds of work on our legs in the offseason, then we don't use our legs in the swing. If [Tabata] is doing those things, he will have that pop, because he can hit."
Upon departing Pirate City, manager Clint Hurdle declined to single out players who have stood out the most in the early phase of Spring Training. He did, however, make a blanket statement that likely included Tabata.
"There's not a 'most' right now," Hurdle said. "There are so many guys who have challenges in front of them and have shown up in a good place, with an understanding of what they need to work on and of the opportunity in front of them."