MILWAUKEE — Neil Walker is still getting used to his new surroundings after he was traded over the weekend from the New York Mets to the Milwaukee Brewers.
But when his new team takes the field Tuesday night at Miller Park, he’ll certainly see plenty of familiar faces.
Walker spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who come to the Brew City for a quick two-game set against Milwaukee, making this late-season deal all the more interesting for the 31-year-old infielder.
“It’ll be fun,” Walker said after his Milwaukee debut Sunday. “It’s always fun. Obviously, I still live in the Pittsburgh area so there’s some torn people at this point in Pittsburgh. The Walker family is all on board with Milwaukee.”
Milwaukee acquired Walker with the hopes of shoring up a major lack of production at second base, where the Brewers had an National League-worst .672 OPS at the time of the deal. That he’s also a switch hitter with a .288 average against right-handers this year makes him all the more valuable to manager Craig Counsell’s lineup.
“When we’ve been at our best, we’ve been a balanced lineup against right-handed pitching,” Counsell said. “Neil’s a guy that provides a little more thunder against right-handed pitching, a little more versatility.”
Walker has been a pain in his former team’s side this season, going 8-for-24 against the Pirates with three home runs.
“I asked (pitching coach Ray Searage) if we’re going to adjust our pitching plan to him based on what we experienced in Pittsburgh,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He swung the bat very well against us.”
With the Pirates starting right-hander Ivan Nova on Tuesday night, expect to find Walker in the lineup along with another valuable left-handed bat in third baseman Travis Shaw, who sat out Sunday after fouling pitches off a foot and knee in the same at-bat Saturday night.
Shaw is 10-for-13 in his career against Nova, who is 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA in four career starts against the Brewers, including a 1-1 record and 3.46 ERA in two starts at Miller Park. He has allowed seven earned runs in 13 1/3 innings.
Milwaukee counters with right-hander Zach Davies, who is 1-1 with a 4.58 ERA in three starts against Pittsburgh this season and held the Pirates to one run in seven innings but took a no-decision in a 3-2 Brewers loss on July 19.
Davies had a rough go of things his last time out, allowing seven runs (six earned) in 5 2/3 innings in a 7-2 loss to Minnesota last week but was 6-1 with a 2.38 ERA in his eight starts before that.
“I don’t think Zach pitched poorly,” Counsell said after the game against the Twins. “He threw a ton of strikes. He was the victim of a bunch of balls in play that hurt him. They strung some hits together and put a couple of good innings on them.”
Both teams come into the game looking to gain ground in a suddenly-competitive NL Central.
Milwaukee stabilized after a six-game losing streak by scoring 23 runs in its three-game set against Cincinnati, capped with back-to-back wins over the Reds, and now sits just two games back of the front-running Chicago Cubs.
Pittsburgh has won six of its last 10 and is only four games off the division lead, making this short series a crucial one for both sides.
“I think it’s what everybody kind of hopes for when you go into the season,” Hurdle said. “You can be playing meaningful games late.
“You’re in your division. We all know what everybody else has got. There’s no tricks or hidden players or anything that should come out and surprise you. The team that plays the best is going to win.”