8/7/2014 7:06 P.M. ET
Walker improves, but sits out another game
By Stephen Pianovich / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- For the second consecutive night -- and fourth out of the last five games -- the Pirates were without second baseman Neil Walker (back tightness).
Walker has been bothered by the back issue since the tail end of a 10-game road trip that concluded in Arizona over the weekend. Even when the second baseman started on Tuesday, he was pulled after seven innings when he re-aggravated his back.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Walker felt better and possibly would take some swings in the batting cage before Thursday night's series finale against the Marlins. Walker will continue to receive treatment on his back, and when he is reinserted into the Bucs' lineup, Hurdle doesn't want it to come with any other complications.
"There was some improvement," Hurdle said. "I'm trusting the people I talk to, and I'm trusting Neil. What he felt was real the first time back, and seemed to me maybe too quick. I'm going to give him more time, so the next time we plug him in, we can keep him there."
Walker's absence and that of Andrew McCutchen (fractured rib), left Hurdle with just three position players off the bench for the second night in a row.
McCutchen, who got hurt on a swing Sunday against the D-backs, remains off the disabled list -- at least for now. Hurdle reiterated the team's initial stance that the reigning National League MVP could be healthy enough to play sometime in the next two weeks.
"He's gotten better, and he's adding more to his return to recovery routine," Hurdle said. "It's still wait and see. There's a chance [he could avoid the DL]."
However, the Pirates are going to have to make a roster move when they activate Pedro Alvarez from the bereavement list, which could happen soon. Hurdle said nothing is "cement," but there is a chance the third baseman could be at PNC Park on Thursday night and be activated on Friday.
Hurdle responds to La Russa's comments on HBP
PITTSBURGH -- Entering Thursday, the Pirates had hit 11 more batters than anyone in baseball. But one plunking in particular has caused quite a stir in the last week.
Bucs reliever Ernesto Frieri hit the D-backs' Paul Goldschmidt in the hand on Friday night, which set off a chain reaction. It was announced Saturday that the first baseman's hand was fractured and his season was over, and later that night, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen was drilled in the back by Randall Delgado in the ninth inning.
Tensions were high in the desert even after the Pirates left town, and D-backs chief baseball operator Tony La Russa said earlier in the week he was upset by how much flak his team was getting for hitting McCutchen. La Russa added: "There's a big difference between getting hit here [in the hands] and getting hit here [in the back]. That's why I think it's unfair."
On Thursday afternoon, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was asked about La Russa's comments and defended his team's pitching philosophy.
"I have a personal and professional respect for Tony; I see things from a different lens," Hurdle said. "We try to pitch aggressively to both sides of the plate. We have not taken an initiative to pitch dangerously. He's entitled to his opinion."
McCutchen fractured a rib in his left side the following day while taking a swing, which caused further anger from the Pirates fan base, though Hurdle called relating the injury and the hit by pitch a "conspiracy theory."
First number, last word
18: The number of consecutive games the Pirates have won when scoring in the first inning. It's the longest streak of its kind since the franchise set a record by winning 28 straight games when scoring in the first inning in 1909.
"That was a debatable check-swing call right there. It went our way. Every once in a while, it's nice to have one of those go our way." -- Russell Martin on a call that went in his favor during a seventh-inning at-bat against Miami's Mike Dunn on Wednesday night. Martin eventually delivered an RBI single in the at-bat.
• Rehabbing infielder Clint Barmes (strained groin) will go on a rehab assignment once he's fully comfortable stopping, starting and running the base paths, Hurdle said. Barmes, who has been taking batting practice and infield with the team lately, has not played since June 29.
• If the Pirates win Thursday, it will be their sixth series victory in a row at PNC Park. The Bucs entered the finale with the Marlins having not dropped a home set since the Reds took two of three from June 17-19.
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.