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Waiting out slump, Walker reconnects

Discussing the offensive slump he endured for nearly two months, Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker is certain of two things: when it began and when it ended. In his mind, the rest remains conjecture, coincidence, and bad luck. He cannot tell you why a career-high 20-game hitting streak suddenly turned into a stretch of futility. He cannot tell you why hard-hit balls found a fielder's glove rather than a gap.

As far as Walker was concerned, it was never about mechanics. The slump started unexpectedly after Walker hit two home runs in a Sunday afternoon game against the Florida Marlins June 29. In his first at-bat in the next game, in Tampa against the Devil Rays, Walker remembers hitting a ball hard to center where it was caught at the wall by Rocco Baldelli. Walker went 1 for 6 -- his single tied the game in the ninth, a game the Sox lost in the 11th -- and that's how innocently the slump began.

Looking back, the only issue Walker can point to is patience at the plate. But going 29 for 159 (.182) in 38 games from July 1 to Aug. 19 and being bumped from second in the batting order to eighth can teach a player a lot about patience.

"If there was one fault that I was having, it was probably not seeing enough pitches, which is what we talked about," said Walker. "Then, it was probably a confidence thing later in the whole deal. Those are the only two things. It wasn't anything technical.

"That's what is kind of confusing because you're doing the same things you had done before when you were getting hits. Now, all of a sudden, it's not working. It's confusing because you don't know what to do. But you just keep swinging. That's what you always hear. You hear it so much you get sick of it. But you just keep swinging and eventually good things happen."

And they have. Walker is hitting .310 (9 for 29) over his last six games with three doubles, four RBIs, and six runs.

According to Walker, his slump officially ended when he replaced an injured Damian Jackson against the A's last Wednesday. In his first at-bat, Walker sent a grounder down the third base line. Oakland third baseman Eric Chavez caught the ball, but Walker beat the throw to first. After coming in as a defensive replacement, he finished the game 1 for 3. The next day Walker was moved back to the second spot in the order and the Red Sox went on a winning streak that ended last night after five games.

Coincidence? Maybe. But Walker believes Boston is more comfortable with a lineup like the one that started the season. He is certainly more comfortable batting second.

"It's more coincidence than anything that I started feeling comfortable again in the 2-hole," said Walker. "That's the best answer I can give. I don't think because I got put down in the 2-hole that automatically the hits started falling for me. Everybody goes through slumps, but for me personally, what happens is I start hitting balls hard and they're all at people. Then, the ones that I don't hit hard, I'm out. Then, I start to think about it a little too much.

"But overall, I think now I'm having some balls fall in for me. You don't have five good at-bats every game.

"So the balls that you hit hard, you need to fall in for you. Now, it's happening a little bit and before it wasn't."

During his slump, Walker consulted hitting coach Ron Jackson, general manager Theo Epstein, and teammate Nomar Garciaparra. Each provided a different perspective and helped restore Walker's confidence. Epstein talked about numbers: how many pitches the lefthanded batter saw when he hit well vs. how many pitches he saw when he hit poorly. Garciaparra preached the importance of maintaining the same routine at the plate.

"Nomar and I talked a lot about it," said Walker. "It's basically working the process. You go up every at-bat and work the process. You just assume and hope that things take care of themselves and they do. I've just been working the process, which is taking more pitches, seeing them better, keeping my right shoulder in, all the things I know are the right things to do."

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