Pirates stand behind Iwamura in lineup

Pirates stand behind Iwamura in lineup

CHICAGO -- Akinori Iwamura hasn't come anywhere close to meeting the offensive expectations the Pirates had of the infielder when they acquired him over the offseason. Still, manager John Russell said he will continue starting the struggling second baseman, hopeful that Iwamura can start to find the offensive success similar to his time in Tampa Bay.

"We are looking for him to relax and just do what he's capable of doing," Russell said. "He's done it in the past. We just need him to relax and let it happen."

Iwamura's start has been extremely disappointing. He continues to hit primarily from the leadoff spot, despite a .161 batting average and a .255 on-base percentage. Those numbers have been even worse recently, as Iwamura, who went 0-for-6 on Friday vs. the Cubs, has gone just 2-for-41 since the start on May.

With the hits not falling, why not just take Iwamura out of lineup altogether? There's a few reasons why the Pirates have opted not to do this just yet. Iwamura's lengthy track record shows that he has hit everywhere he's been, and the organization isn't ready to concede that Iwamura can't still do that with Pittsburgh. Also, the decision to stick the team's highest-paid player on the bench is never one made lightly.

"While Iwamura's standard statistics are not at the levels we anticipated, his objective numbers indicated a heavy slant toward small sample size and bad luck over regressing skills," general manager Neal Huntington said. "One such metric is his BABIP [batting average on balls in play], which is below .200 for 2010 to date, while his prior low single season was .337. Combine small sample size with changing leagues and recovery from a significant injury, and it is way too early to begin to panic about Aki's performance to date."

Furthermore, Russell hasn't seen anyone else step up to seriously challenge Iwamura for the chance to play every day. Delwyn Young, who could play the position, has hit just .194 as a starter this season. Backup infielder Bobby Crosby is hitting only .211 when in the starting lineup.

"We've tinkered with the lineup a little bit, and it's not like anybody else is really doing a lot either," Russell said. "We've got to do this as a team. It's not one guy. Aki not getting on base is not the whole reason why we're not scoring runs. We've got to be careful pointing the finger at one guy or even two guys."

What this doesn't address are the Pirates' two other potential long-term options, neither of which the Bucs have tapped into yet. There have been discussions about moving Andy LaRoche to second when top prospect Pedro Alvarez is ready for the Majors. To this point, LaRoche has not taken grounders at second. That suggests he's not going to be making that transition soon.

The other option is Neil Walker, a former first-round Draft pick who is thriving down at Triple-A Indianapolis. Walker is leading the International League with 45 hits, but management's apparent disappointment with Walker's attitude and effort could postpone his callup, even though the Pirates appear to have a need.