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04/05/11 8:39 PM ET

Walker sparks Pirates' strong start

ST. LOUIS -- Pirates second baseman Neil Walker had a big game on Monday night.

The 25-year-old switch-hitter had three hits, drove in two runs and made a highlight-worthy play behind second base in Pittsburgh's 4-3 victory over the Cardinals in the series opener at Busch Stadium.

"He's a ballplayer," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said before Tuesday's game. "I do hear comments from time to time that he can't do this and he can't do that. We live in a society that we're so quick to try and point out how smart we are and something that somebody can't do."

"You let the kid play and you watch him play. He comes to play. He comes to win. He's going to do whatever it takes on the offensive and defensive side of the ball to win a ballgame. He'll lay out. Does he have work to do? Can he improve? All of us can. I like the way he embraces the game and he has embraced this opportunity."

Walker took a hit away from Cardinals third baseman David Freese and may have thwarted a St. Louis rally in the fourth inning on Monday when he made a sliding stop to his right behind second base and threw Freese out at first for the second out of the inning.

It was an impressive play for a guy who had played all over the field before finding a home at second base for the Pirates last season as a rookie.

Walker's bat hasn't been a question so far this season and has played a big part in Pittsburgh's 3-1 start. He entered Tuesday night's game hitting .412 (7-for-17) with three doubles, one home run, seven RBIs, four runs scored and a .444 on-base percentage.

His seven RBIs lead the National League.

The 11th overall pick in the 2004 Draft, Walker finished tied for fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting last season after hitting .296 with 29 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs, 66 RBIs, 57 runs scored and a .349 OBP in 110 games.

Pirates finding success on the road

ST. LOUIS -- First-year Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is trying some new things to shake up his ball club during its back-to-back road series to open the season. So far, the results are positive.

"We're just trying to do some things differently, trying to find a way to recreate an atmosphere ... maybe a routine that they fall into more at home than on the road," Hurdle said Tuesday. "You become a slave to routines in this game and on the road, you can get into some bad ones. You get home late. You eat late. You sleep in. You get up. You go right to the park and eat. We're just trying to get them up and get them moving."

The Pirates had an advance scouting meeting at 11:30 Monday morning, then did early defensive work on Monday afternoon. Then the squad did early hitting work on Tuesday afternoon.

"Just incorporate different things," Hurdle said, "not to overwork them or overwhelm them."

The Pirates, who only won four road series a year ago, went a Major League-worst 17-64 on the road in 2010.

But Pittsburgh's 5-4 win on Sunday in Chicago clinched that series and a win on Tuesday night would clinch the three-game series with the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The Pirates haven't won back-to-back series on the road since August 2007.

"It's great to get a good start like this on the road, especially with the good teams in our division," center fielder Andrew McCutchen said following Monday night's win. "It's good to be able to do this and it's showing that we're growing as a team and getting better."

The new manager, who managed the Rockies to the 2007 World Series and was the hitting coach for the American League champion Rangers last season, is just trying to find a winning formula for the road.

"I'm just trying to figure out the best way to get us in a better routine maybe than the routine was last year for some of them," Hurdle said.

Pirates' starting pitching leading the way

ST. LOUIS -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle can't remember the last time he started a season with 10 consecutive games before an off-day.

It has been a challenge, but Pittsburgh's starting rotation has helped the club get through it during the first half of the long stretch.

"You have no days off," Hurdle said on Tuesday. "You have to keep putting wood on the fire and keep getting guys out there. Our starters have showed up very, very well to this point for us."

The Pirates' pitching staff allowed 11 earned runs in 35 innings through the first four games, and the first four starters -- Kevin Correia (1-0), Paul Maholm, Ross Ohlendorf and Charlie Morton (1-0) -- have accounted for seven of those earned runs in 24 2/3 innings.

"I'm very encouraged by our starting pitching," Hurdle said.

Entering Tuesday, Pittsburgh's staff ERA of 2.83 is fourth in the National League and closer Joel Hanrahan's three saves are tied with the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton for the league lead.

"I think all the guys, they didn't feel very good about themselves last year after the year and put in their work in the offseason and so far, it's paying off for them," Hanrahan said. "I know it's only a couple games, but if they can keep doing that, it's a good sign for us."

Nate Latsch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.