Neil Walker has finally returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ lineup after a stint on the 15-day disabled list due to an oblique injury. To make room for Walker on the 25-man roster, the Pirates finally were forced to designate Brandon Inge for assignment. The Inge move has been long overdue, but at least he’s gone now.
Walker has been one of the more underrated second baseman in the National League over the past couple seasons. He has a career .275/.340/.419 slash line, but his 2013 line is just .244/.347/.384; he isn’t hitting for average or power this season. The one positive I see with Walker this season is that he is drawing more walks. His 10.2 percent walk rate is higher than his career 8.5 percent walk rate and his BABIP is just .285 this season compared to a career .319 BABIP.
With Walker returning, I do think the Pirates and manager Clint Hurdle need to consider benching him against left-handed pitching. Against right-handed pitching, Walker is hitting for a .258/.374/.438 slash line with an 11.3 percent walk rate in 2013. Against southpaws this season, Walker is only hitting for a .196/.246/.196 line. Against right-handers, Walker has a very good .812 OPS compared to an awful .442 OPS against lefties.
As for the Inge decision, it was hopefully an easy one. In 110 plate appearances, the veteran infielder hit for just a .181/.204/.238 slash line with a 1.8 percent walk rate and 29.1 percent strikeout rate. While he is a plus-defender and a good teammate, he just wasn’t hitting enough to keep on the bench for this team.