WASHINGTON -- Manager Clint Hurdle held second baseman Neil Walker and outfielder Xavier Paul out of the lineup again on Friday against the Nationals, but both should be available off the bench, if needed.

Hurdle said Walker's sore back improved significantly after receiving Thursday off in Toronto, and Walker expects to play one of Saturday's doubleheader games. The Pirates play day games on Sunday in Washington and on Monday at home against Houston, and Hurdle is unsure how he will use Walker at that point.

"I think [Walker's] much better today," Hurdle said on Friday, "and we'll use him as the game dictates, if needed."

Hurdle did not speak with Paul, who sat the previous two games with a tight right hamstring, before meeting with the media, but the left fielder expects to be available off the bench.

Paul ran sprints in the outfield at Nationals Park and said everything felt fine.

"I feel pretty much normal," Paul said after also hitting in the batting cage. "I should be ready to go today. I know they have a lefty [Tom Gorzelanny] going, but if they need me at any point throughout the game, I should be ready."

Nats skipper Johnson played key role for Hurdle

WASHINGTON -- Manager Clint Hurdle, who was looking forward to speaking with Nationals skipper Davey Johnson before Friday's series opener in Washington, recalled a meeting the two had in 1983, when Hurdle credits Johnson with rejuvenating his career.

Seattle released Hurdle on Opening Day of '83, and he signed with the New York Mets to play for Triple-A Tidewater under Johnson, now 68 and in his first home series since taking over as Nationals manager after Jim Riggleman's resignation.

Johnson planned to used Hurdle as the designated hitter, but the Tides' third baseman broke his hand in the first game, and Johnson asked Hurdle if he ever played the position.

"Absolutely," Hurdle said. So Hurdle entered the game and started the next day at the hot corner.

"About three days later [Johnson] called me into his office and said, 'You never played third base before, did you?' I said, 'Absolutely not,'" Hurdle laughed. "Then he went to work with me, and we developed a very strong relationship over the years."

Bucs Bits

• Injured outfielder Jose Tabata traveled to Washington with the team after landing on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday with a left quadriceps strain. He threw before the game.

• Left-hander Joe Beimel, on the 15-day DL with left elbow inflammation, pitched a scoreless inning in his first rehab assignment on Friday with Class A Bradenton. The reliever started the game, striking out two of the three batters he faced.

• Nick Leyva is unlikely to return to his spot as third-base coach this weekend as he nurses a sore back. Luis Silverio will coach third, and Mark Strittmatter will take Silverio's place as first-base coach for the series in Washington.

• Third baseman Pedro Alvarez hit a two-run homer on Friday, his first since beginning a rehab assignment on Monday with Class A Bradenton. Alvarez is expected to return from the DL, where he landed with an injured quad, this month.