PITTSBURGH -- Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of Garrett Jones' debut with the Pirates after a 159-game stint in which he had 31 home runs, 91 RBIs and 78 runs.
Twenty-one of those home runs came last season, when the then-28-year-old became just the second rookie in Major League history to hit 20 or more homers after June 30.
"I just was happy to get the second chance and get the opportunity to get up here and have a chance to play," Jones said. "I just was thrown in the lineup and got an opportunity to play every day, and as a player, that's all you can ask for. I was just happy for that opportunity, was just trying to make the most of it and not worrying about the future too much. Just trying to take it game to game and play my best and just see what happens."
What happened was one stretch last July that saw him hit home runs in four consecutive games, including a Major League-leading 10 in his first month with the Pirates. He hit two home runs on Opening Day this year, cementing his role in the cleanup spot.
Jones, whose only Major League experience before being promoted to the Pirates was a 31-game stint with the Twins in 2007, recently went on a career-high 12-game hitting streak that ended June 23. He is currently second on the Pirates with a .284 batting average, up from .256 on June 8.
"I think there was a little mechanical flaw in there earlier in the season," Jones said of his swing. "I think I was trying too hard to hit a home run with every pitch, and really just getting myself out and not just taking what the pitcher was giving you."
Now, Jones said, he has smoothed his swing out, turning what were ground balls and flyouts earlier in the season into line drives that are falling for base hits.
"I think it was more just a mental change of what my approach is at the plate," Jones said.
Pirates' Walker eyes Saturday return
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates infielder Neil Walker played catch and took ground balls Thursday, and he hopes to be ready to play Saturday, eight days after suffering a concussion from hitting his head on Ryan Church's thigh on a fly ball play in Oakland.
Walker said Wednesday was the first full day he experienced without any headaches since the collision, which, to his knowledge, was the first concussion he ever suffered.
"I may have had one in football back in [high school], but I've never blacked out before," Walker joked. "So that was a first."
Walker flew with the team from Oakland to Chicago before returning to Pittsburgh on Monday morning for evaluations. He said he's been examined by both team doctors and a neurologist, with all tests coming back negative.
Manager John Russell cautioned that the Pirates don't want to rush their second baseman back too soon, but remained optimistic of the timetable for Walker's return.
"Looking good. He's feeling pretty good, really not too many symptoms," Russell said. "If everything goes well today, we'll get him out for batting practice tomorrow and like a full workout before the game. If everything goes well there, then hopefully we can get him back in the game on Saturday, barring any setbacks."
Rookie Alvarez bats second for first time
PITTSBURGH -- Pedro Alvarez batted second in the Pirates' lineup against the Phillies on Thursday, marking the first time in his 14-game Major League career he wasn't hitting sixth.
"Obviously I'm just excited to get in the lineup and get an opportunity to be up there, no matter what spot it is," Alvarez said. "It's just another day to try to learn and do the best I can."
Manager John Russell feels Alvarez will see better pitches hitting between Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen at the top of the order.
"Hitting toward the bottom with the pitcher not too far away, I think [opposing pitchers] weren't too worried about throwing a lot of offspeed [pitches] and pitching around him a little bit," Russell said. "Just like to get him in a situation where he can hopefully see a few more fastballs, and I think the main thing is he's starting to get a little more comfortable, and [I'm] just hoping this is going to be a little bit better situation for him."
With left-handers Alvarez and Garrett Jones batting second and fourth, respectively, Russell likes the idea of alternating right- and left-handed hitters among the first four spots in the lineup, as it will make it more difficult for opposing managers to bring in situational relievers in the late innings.
"It balances a little bit," Russell said. "We're looking at the matchups. With [Phillies lefty J.C.] Romero in their bullpen, we can't just come in and stack three lefties in our lineup. Unfortunately, there's some situations we have to do that, but it should make it a little bit easier for us balance-wise. It's not left, left, left."
Pirates left-hander Dana Eveland has cleared outright waivers and has been assigned to Triple-A Indianapolis. ... Right-hander Chris Jakubauskas was moved up to Triple-A Indianapolis to continue his Minor League rehabilitation. He will be used in long relief and a spot-starting role. Jakubauskas was hit in the head by a line drive on April 24. ... Bobby Crosby was back in the Pirates' lineup Thursday, batting seventh and playing shortstop. Crosby collided with Lastings Milledge on Monday near the right-field foul line at Wrigley Field and was suffering from concussion-like symptoms. He had not played since Monday. ... Pirates manager John Russell said Ryan Church would be available in a pinch-hit role Thursday, meaning Neil Walker was the only position player unavailable. ... Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel did not manage Thursday night's game, as he was suspended for an argument with umpire C.B. Bucknor on Tuesday in Cincinnati.
Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.