PITTSBURGH -- Joel Hanrahan's miserable six-run seventh inning against the Brewers three months ago is not a distant memory, not even close.
"I wouldn't say that I put that outing behind me, I'd say I use it more as motivation," Hanrahan said. "These guys, they're coming up there trying to take food off your plate at all times, and you've got to go out there and take it personally and go out there and try to do your job, I guess. But I use that as motivation because, you can ask [Octavio] Dotel and [Brendan] Donnelly, we've all had games like that against Milwaukee, and we use that as motivation and try to work on it and try to get our numbers down as much as possible."
Hanrahan has done just that, giving up just 10 earned runs in 37 2/3 innings (38 appearances) since, lowering his ERA from 15.75 to 3.67. Take away that April 22 outing, which came in a Pirates' 20-0 loss, and Hanrahan's ERA is 2.43.
The 28-year-old right-hander struck out two in the ninth Thursday against the Brewers and has now tossed four scoreless innings in four appearances since the All-Star break, striking out six, walking none and allowing just two hits.
With the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline fast approaching, Pirates manager John Russell has repeatedly said he likes what he has in his bullpen. Hanrahan isn't oblivious to the chatter, but his mindset remains the same.
"This time of the year, obviously, there's a lot of trade talks going on with everybody, and people joke about it and everything, and you got outside people coming in, like family members, asking questions," Hanrahan said. "It's nice not to see your name in there and then it is also flattering to see your name in trade rumors, too -- that teams are interested in you and other teams feel like you can help them in the playoff race. That's always fun, too, but it's one of those things you can't worry about. You just go out there and pitch."
Walker consistenly responds to challenges
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates manager John Russell can be forgiven for not getting overly excited about Neil Walker's six consecutive multihit games.
That's because Walker has been consistent ever since his May 25 promotion, recording three hits in his first two games and never letting his batting average dip below .269 in June or July.
That low point for Walker came one week before Friday's game against the Padres. On a 16-for-28 (.593) tear with eight RBIs and four runs in the six games since, the rookie second baseman is now hitting at a .320 clip, easily the best on the club. Walker is the first Pirates player to record six straight multihit games since Nyjer Morgan had six in a row Sept. 12-18, 2008.
"What he went through, I think really made him a stronger player," Russell said. "Fighting his way, struggling a little bit in Triple-A and finding it toward the end of the season last year. Came in, he knew Pedro [Alvarez] was going to play third, so I think it challenged him in another direction. We challenged him to play other positions and challenged him to try to find a spot that he could settle in.
"He settled in at second and ran with it, so got to give a lot of credit to Neil, but I think the way we kind of pieced it together for him, to challenge him, I think it really paid a lot of dividends."
McCutchen nears return from shoulder injury
PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen hit in the batting cages Friday and began to throw further distances, and Pirates manager John Russell remained optimistic that the outfielder could potentially take batting practice with his teammates Saturday.
Russell would not rule out McCutchen returning during this weekend series against the Padres.
"We're getting very close, put it that way," Russell said. "Whether it's today or tomorrow or the next day -- I would say Tuesday would be a definite. He should be ready by Tuesday for sure. But we're looking at he could possibly be ready [Saturday] or Sunday."
Friday marked the fifth straight game McCutchen missed since exiting the eighth inning of Sunday's game. McCutchen sprained his AC joint in his right shoulder while diving for a catch to rob the Astros' Pedro Feliz of a base hit. McCutchen had missed just two games in his short career prior to the injury.
Pirates manager John Russell, a former catcher, did not think Prince Fielder's eighth-inning collision with Erik Kratz on Thursday was a fineable offense, though he acknowledged there was likely some added aggression given the game's tension: "I've had enough collisions that I was in -- that's what they do, they try to get in there deep. Usually don't throw a shoulder because you can get hurt, so they try to get their elbows and arms up to try to jar the ball loose." ... Russell said catcher Ryan Doumit, placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday because of a concussion, will not take part in any baseball activity before the Pirates travel to Colorado for Tuesday's game. ... The seven Padres starting position players Friday who have faced the Pirates are hitting at least .289 against them for their careers. ... Right-hander Teddy Fallon and left-hander Justin Ennis were both promoted from Class A Short-Season State College to Class A West Virginia. ... Double-A Altoona right-hander Jeff Sues was transferred from the DL to the suspended list.
Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.