© 2014 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

8/6/2014 7:14 P.M. ET

Hurdle tries to keep injury-riddled Bucs on path

PITTSBURGH -- Though he was relegated to just holding the piece of lumber, Andrew McCutchen had a bat in his hand as he and manager Clint Hurdle watched some of the Pirates' batting practice on Wednesday.

"It was kind of like when our starting pitchers go out to the bullpen and watch the guy throw his bullpen [session] that day. I think he's just there for support," Hurdle said. "And I think he's more comfortable with a bat in his hand than standing still."

While last season's National League MVP sits -- though not on the disabled list for now, as the team waits to see if he could be in playing shape before 15 days are up -- the team will try to maintain its spot in the thick of races for both the National League Central and the NL Wild Card.

McCutchen is not the only prominent Pirates player missing time, either. Neil Walker sat Wednesday night for the third time in four games with back tightness; Gerrit Cole is going to make at least one more rehab start and Pedro Alvarez is on the bereavement list. Given the circumstances, Hurdle had a message for his team with the help from another coach.

"Every team in our division has lost key members. We're no different than anybody else," Hurdle said. "I shared a quote with the team yesterday that Lou Holtz made famous: 'Don't tell people your problems. Eighty percent of them don't care, and the other 20 are happy you have them.' It makes sense. Go play. At the end of the day, you have to put nine on the field and go play."

Part of those nine includes the No. 3 spot in the order, which McCutchen owns when healthy. Josh Harrison was penciled there Tuesday against Marlins lefty Brad Hand, and catcher Russell Martin was in the slot Wednesday night against right-hander Tom Koehler.

Hurdle said he "doesn't feel the need to lock in" a permanent three-hole hitter with McCutchen out, and he said it will depend on what the matchups are from game to game.

Walker out after aggravating back injury

PITTSBURGH -- For the third time in four games, Neil Walker was not in the Pirates' starting lineup Wednesday night due to back tightness.

Walker missed the final two games of a weekend series in Arizona with a nagging back, and he was pulled from Tuesday's 6-3 loss to the Marlins after seven innings when the issue was re-aggravated.

"Based on the way he responded last night, that there was some tightening up, we thought we'd give him a full day of treatment," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of his second baseman.

Hurdle didn't have a definitive answer as to if Walker would be available for Wednesday night's game. But the second baseman did not take batting practice with the team on the field, and it seemed unlikely he would play.

In addition to Walker's back trouble, center fielder Andrew McCutchen remains off the disabled list, but sidelined with a fractured rib on his left side. Already working with a patchwork lineup, Hurdle would have just three position players -- Gaby Sanchez, Jayson Nix and Chris Stewart -- off his bench vs. Miami if Walker was unavailable.

With Pedro Alvarez on the bereavement list, Wednesday marked the first time McCutchen, Walker and Alvarez were all out of the Bucs' lineup since the trio was on the roster (June 16, 2010).

Cole's rehab start goes beyond the numbers

PITTSBURGH -- As Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole continues to work his way back from a strained right lat that forced him to the disabled list a month ago, his next step is another rehab start, according to manager Clint Hurdle.

Cole gave up five runs on 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings on Tuesday, throwing 74 pitches (53 strikes) in his second outing for Triple-A Indianapolis. Hurdle, who spoke with Cole over the phone Wednesday, called the start a "gear down game" and noted the organization gave him a list of goals going into it that didn't have to do with his pitching line.

"We wanted him to repeat delivery and maintain arm slot," Hurdle said. "The challenge that can come with that is a young man who is out there competing and doesn't want to give up runs. We told him the bigger picture this time is not to be reactionary to what results we might get."

Hurdle added Cole will throw a bullpen session Thursday, and the team hasn't yet decided exactly when his next rehab start will be.

Cole is on the DL for the second time this season -- his first trip was for right shoulder fatigue -- and he has pitched only twice for the Pirates since June 3. In 14 Major League starts, he is 7-4 with a 3.78 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP and 78 strikeouts.

First number, last word

.284 Martin's batting average when hitting third in the order -- the best of any batting slot in the catcher's Major League career.

"It's like in the old days when you have to move the rabbit ears on your TV. You got them, 'OK ,now I have a picture.' And you move on." -- Clint Hurdle on left-hander Jeff Locke making in-game adjustments

Worth noting

• The Pirates are 44-6 when leading after seven innings. That sixth loss came Tuesday when the Bucs' bullpen gave up a 2-1 lead by allowing a five-run eighth inning.

Josh Harrison and Gregory Polanco -- hitting first and second respectively in Wednesday's order -- entered the game with respectable hitting streaks. Harrison hit safely in nine straight games coming into Wednesday, while Polanco had a knock in six in a row.

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.