04/28/2013 2:20 PM ET
As Sanchez appeals suspension, Contreras near return
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Jose Contreras is knocking on the Pirates' bullpen gate, raising the possibility the club may shelve Jonathan Sanchez even before Major League Baseball does.
Sanchez has appealed his six-game suspension for hitting the Cardinals' Allen Craig with a pitch on Friday. A hearing on the case will most likely occur during the Pirates' May 9-12 visit to New York, and Sanchez is active in the interim.
However, Contreras, who has passed his final rehab test, now is virtually certain to be activated when the Pirates come off the road to open a five-game homestand on Friday against the Nationals.
There wasn't anyone meriting giving up their seat in the Bucs' elite bullpen -- until Sanchez's demotion there after his abridged Friday night start.
Sanchez's next turn in the rotation will come on Wednesday in Milwaukee. Although manager Clint Hurdle would not comment Sunday morning -- "We'll make a decision [Monday] on a Wednesday starter," he said -- the most likely scenario has Jeanmar Gomez making that start and Sanchez remaining a long man in the bullpen.
When Contreras joins up with the Bucs, he figures to push Sanchez out. Simple, theoretically.
Contreras' final back-to-back outings for Triple-A Indianapolis were pushed up to Friday and Saturday. He allowed one hit, a solo homer, in the two games, striking out three without a walk.
"He was in good form," Hurdle said. "He will have two days down, and we'll see how he feels. Then he'll either get another opportunity to pitch [with Indianapolis] or be activated here."
As for the discipline and his appeal of it, Sanchez said, "I respect the rules. But I was just pitching and a pitch got away from me. They've got to hear my version of what happened."
Walker could be back during Brewers series
ST. LOUIS -- Neil Walker will not have the stitches removed from his right index knuckle by the time the Bucs return home on Friday -- as he'd originally hoped -- but the second baseman could still soon return to action. Perhaps even during the Milwaukee phase of this current road swing.
Manager Clint Hurdle provided the update Sunday morning, saying "the stitches are not going to come out in six days," one of the original timetables.
"But," Hurdle added, "he can play with the stitches in. We'll get him out [Monday], see what he is capable of doing throwing and swinging the bat."
In the short term, Walker may be looked on as possible help for the Pirates' thinned-out bench, while Brandon Inge and John McDonald -- who drew Sunday's start -- take turns in the lineup.
Walker was injured in the eighth inning of Friday night's game, as he went into second trying to break up a double play and Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma landed on his right hand, spikes first, opening a six-stitch gash.
• Outfielder Travis Snider, scratched from Saturday's lineup due to tightness in his right side, showed up at the park on Sunday feeling better, and was a pinch-hit option off the bench.
• Jason Grilli had more saves (10) entering Sunday's action than Miami, San Diego, the Cubs, Toronto, Cleveland, Houston and the Angels had wins.
• The next step on Jeff Karstens' rehab trail is still being discussed, and contrary to earlier expectations, he may continue working with the club rather then detour to extended spring training.
• Francisco Liriano, although scheduled for six innings or 90 pitches in his next rehab start for Indianapolis on Tuesday, is not an option to instead start for the Bucs on Wednesday -- when Sanchez's turn next comes up.
"He's nowhere close to finishing the pitching progression we laid out for him," Hurdle said. "We want to get him in position to compete at this level, to meet the challenges presented by pitching at this level."
First number, last word
39: Runs the Pirates have scored in the seventh inning or later in their first 24 games, or 44 percent of their total of 89 runs.
"Starters get paid big bucks for a reason, because they know how to get guys out. When they're on and got their rhythm, it's tough to get a mistake from them, and most hitters are mistake hitters."
-- Russell Martin, on the Bucs' tendency to come awake when starters turn the mound over to their bullpen.
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.