PITTSBURGH -- Outfielder Jose Tabata's play had become too indecisive. So the Pirates were the ones to make a decisive move on Tuesday, optioning the Major League veteran to Triple-A Indianapolis. "There comes a point where we've got to find a way to help him reignite his game," said manager Clint Hurdle, whose increasing criticism of Tabata's play made the move less than surprising. "It's consistent at-bats, consistent reps, games, plays. We're in a competitive mode up here. He wasn't playing to his expectations." Recalled from Indianapolis to take the veteran's place on the roster was outfielder Gorkys Hernandez.
Tabata, 23, has spent most of the last three seasons in the Pittsburgh outfield. In 72 games this season, most of them in right field, he was hitting .230, with an on-base percentage of .295. "He was trying to find a way to get some offensive traction. That wasn't happening," Hurdle said. "I think to get him out of this environment can also provide some good. Once he gets down there, find the freedom and go play. He was battling it daily up here." The Venezuelan's cautious play may best be illustrated by his activity on the bases. While Tabata has eight steals, he has been caught a Major League-most nine times. Prior to this season, he had been successful on 35 of 47 steal attempts. In the recent past, Hurdle had also questioned Tabata's defensive efforts, citing numerous times he appeared to pull up on catchable balls. "You see balls drop in front of him. He wants to catch them," Hurdle said. "He doesn't make a good first move and he backs off. It's all about first movement, whether it be in the box, swinging the bat. There's just some indecision. I just know that he's not reacting as I've seem him be able to react before. It's not a weight issue. It's not a condition issue. " Hurdle expected more, because he saw a different Tabata during his first half season as the Pirates manager. Tabata hit .264 through last June, before being sidelined by a strained left quad muscle, with 14 stolen bases. "I was fortunate, at least I did get to see the player last April and May," Hurdle recalled. "You see everything you wanted to see. You saw the barrel of the bat, saw some power. You saw him run the bases with reckless abandon. That's part of the game that's been missing. Quick starts and jumps on stealing bases." During the Pirates' weekend series in St. Louis, Hurdle had said, "The talking part is over. He needs to play. We've worked through this about as far as we can. It's time." Hurdle delivered the news to Tabata on Monday night, after the Pirates' 11-2 victory over Houston. It elicited the reaction Hurdle had hoped for -- and expected. "He's healthy, and he knows it. He was sitting in this chair last night saying, 'I get it. No, I'm accountable. I need to go find my way back.' It's not from a lack of effort," Hurdle emphasized, "but I think ... we need to rekindle the drive mechanism. "We've had enough conversation along the way that I would have been surprised if [he] had been anything but professional. And he understands the greater good of the group out there right now, that he wasn't probably bringing his lunch pail every day, as well as some of the other guys." This will be Hernandez's second stint of the season with the Bucs. He made his big league debut when called up on May 18. Until being returned to Indianapolis on June 5, the 24-year-old went 2-for-10 and made frequent appearances as a late-game defensive replacement. Hernandez is reputed as the strongest defensive outfielder in the Pirates' system.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.