BRADENTON, Fla. -- Last year's Spring Training was rather odd for the Pirates, in that every other opposing starter they faced was left-handed. The concentration of southpaws was the ideal launching pad for switch-hitter Neil Walker, who is naturally right-handed, but normally gets far more swings left-handed, making it his more powerful side.
The collection of opposing starters has been strikingly different this spring, so much so that Walker was scratched from a couple of recent Grapefruit League games so he could get extra right-handed swings in Minor League games.
"I really need those right-handed reps," said Walker, who had only 11 at-bats all spring against lefties until he faced the Orioles' Brian Matusz in Sunday's 12-10 loss.
Walker went 1-for-2 against Matusz with an infield single, leaving him 2-for-13 against left-handers this spring with a .313 on-base percentage.
Because his dominant right hand is on the bottom when he bats left-handed, Walker has always shown far more power from that side. None of his 14 homers last season came hitting right-handed, and he homered once in 160 at-bats from that side the year before.
But he is a more patient hitter right-handed with a better eye for the strike zone and more contact. Those skills rely on reps to maintain, and Walker has occasionally detoured to the Minor League camp to find them.
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.