PITTSBURGH -- Second baseman Neil Walker is off to a solid start for the Pirates, entering play on Thursday night batting .259 with five home runs and nine RBIs. He didn't hit his fifth home run last season until June.
"I'm getting my swing off," Walker stated. "I hit some balls hard this past road trip."
The switch-hitting Walker, who hit .225 without a home run right-handed last season, worked on his swing during the offseason.
It is only a small sample size -- eight at-bats against left-handed pitchers with a .375 batting average, one home run and two RBIs -- but Walker is encouraged.
"It's not much different than anything I've been doing in the past," Walker said. "I'm just working on getting my swing off and getting my foot down and letting the bat work. That's really what I worked on this past offseason, was focusing on getting my swing off and getting myself in a ready position, and I had a good amount of at-bats in Spring Training. Unfortunately, we don't have a ton of left-handers in our division, but that's beside the point. It's about taking good swings at good pitches."
Walker has gone 5-for-12 with three home runs in his last three games and his five homers currently leads all Major League second basemen.
Tabata available one day after crashing into wall
PITTSBURGH -- Jose Tabata started in left field Wednesday and batted leadoff in place of struggling Starling Marte, but Tabata left the game in the fifth inning after injuring himself crashing into the left-field wall while making a sensational catch on catcher Brayan Pena's line drive.
Tabata, who experienced mild concussion-like symptoms, walked off the field with assistance from manager Clint Hurdle and trainer Todd Tomczyk. It was feared that Tabata might miss some time with a concussion, but that is not the case.
"He does not have a concussion," Hurdle said. "He went through a battery of tests today starting with the doctor. They do the concussion test, the computer test, he passed that. He ran on the field, went in the cage, reflexes, all the different activities that we could run him through, and he's going to be available off the bench."
• Two upcoming Pirates games will be available on MLB Network in the Pittsburgh market due to ROOT Sports' coverage of the Penguins in the NHL playoffs. The first game available on MLB Network will be Saturday's game against the Brewers at 7 p.m. ET. The second game will be next Wednesday, April 23, against the Reds at 7 p.m. ET.
Local channel listings are available at www.FindMLBNetwork.com. For customers who have DirecTV or DISH Network, the game will be available both nights on MLB Network alternate channels. On DirecTV, the channel number is 213-1; on DISH, the channel number is 478.
• The Pirates have homered 15 times in their last eight games after hitting a total of four home runs in their first seven games. Only Atlanta (21) has hit more home runs than Pittsburgh (19) this season among National League teams.
George Von Benko is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.