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09/02/12 2:26 PM ET

Walker, Marte, Qualls progressing towards return

MILWAUKEE -- Without question, the Pirates have had one of the healthiest seasons of any Major League team. It is hard to imagine another club that has had to place only one position player on the disabled list, and even that didn't happen until two weeks ago, when Starling Marte incurred a strained right oblique.

Now the Bucs hope to get back to full health as the season winds into the wilderness of September. Toward that end:

• Neil Walker (lower-back tightness) on Saturday had what manager Clint Hurdle described as "his best day so far" since coming down with the issue on Monday. He hasn't yet been cleared for baseball activities, but "had more movement and comfort, and was very encouraged."

• Marte continues to ramp up his baseball activities, and could possibly begin a brief rehab assignment by Wednesday. He began shagging flies in the outfield on Saturday, and is scheduled to try running the bases on Tuesday, a final test before the rehab decision is made.

• Right-hander Chad Qualls (discomfort in right big toe) left the club Sunday morning for Louisville, where on Monday he will make a rehab appearance with Indianapolis.

Holt garners first Major League start on Sunday

MILWAUKEE -- For the last week, Clint Hurdle has already had an "ignitor" in his lineup, his description of fiery Josh Harrison, who has been pulling regular action with Neil Walker sidelined by lower-back tightness.

For Sunday's finale of the Brewers series, Hurdle hoped to have also added a Lightning Holt atop the order.

Brock Holt was in the starting lineup, leading off and playing second -- shifting Harrison over to shortstop -- the day after making a significant Major League debut.

With the Pirates trailing 2-1 in the eighth inning Saturday night, Holt led off as a pinch-hitter and drew a four-pitch walk from Milwaukee reliever Jim Henderson, then wound up scoring the tying run on a two-out single by Andrew McCutchen.

Asked about the patience shown by the 24-year-old infielder, Hurdle grinned coyly and said, "I wouldn't read too much into it, 'cause he was taking from the start."

Still, following take-sign orders couldn't ruin the 5-foot-10 Holt's first big league experience, which, "to score the tying run in my first game, that was pretty exciting."

Sunday's start was about to dial up the excitement. Hurdle had two reasons for giving a quick start to a guy with all of a month's experience in Triple-A, that experience having been quite conspicuous with a .432 average in 24 games at Indianapolis.

"I always try to get callup players in quicker than later," Hurdle said. "The guy's hitting four-whatever in Triple-A. And [shortstop Clint] Barmes has not had a lot of success against [Brewers starting pitcher Yovani] Gallardo. So move Harrison over, put Holt atop the lineup at second, and let's go see where it takes us."

Barmes is hitless in 13 career at-bats against Gallardo.

Pirates trying to find creative ways to use Hanrahan

MILWAUKEE -- What to do with a league-leading closer who doesn't get to close?

"That's been one of the biggest challenges, at the top of our list," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle had to admit the morning after Joel Hanrahan had entered a tie game in the bottom of the ninth and had it untied on Corey Hart's walk-off homer for a 3-2 Milwaukee win.

Hanrahan continues to lead the National League with 34 saves -- one ahead of Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman -- and has converted 13 straight opportunities. But Hanrahan has had only one save opportunity in 3 1/2 weeks, since Aug. 8.

"Joel has a closer mentality," Hurdle said, "but he also understands he needs to pitch. We've had to try some different out-of-the-box things with him, looking for different opportunities.

"There have been a couple of games where there wasn't a save, but we got a lead and we needed to put the game away. Every game from this point on is a big game, so we've got to keep our eyes open and try to make sure we do everything we can to keep our best pitcher in the bullpen involved in the action."

Last word

"He's got to grind to get things done in this game. He doesn't necessarily have the tools scouts always look for. But he has a lot of want-to inside him. He plays with an intensity you can feel, that gives the team energy."
-- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on the versatile and fiery Josh Harrison.

Worth noting

• Sunday's game was the final and rubber game of the Pirates' "beer league" season. They entered it with a cumulative record of 10-10 in Miller Park, Busch Stadium and Coors Field.

• Milwaukee tops the NL in blown saves, as well as last at-bat losses and has a bullpen ERA of 4.76, but the Bucs haven't seen any signs of that. Brewers relievers have allowed seven earned runs in 20 1/3 innings against the Pirates in eight second-half games.

• The Pirates continue to lead the Majors with 25 one-run victories -- yet Saturday night's 3-2 loss was their sixth in the last seven one-run decisions. The Bucs have dropped four one-run games in a row since edging St. Louis, 2-1, on Aug. 17.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.