PITTSBURGH -- As a person, Neil Walker is feeling good. And as anyone ever waylaid by back pain can attest, that's a major welcome step."I'm not bothered doing daily activities, like tying my shoes and stuff," Walker said. As a baseball player -- not so great. "The last couple of days, we pushed the envelope a little more, in terms of throwing and moving laterally, so [we'll] see how far we can go," said Walker, who on Wednesday missed his ninth straight game since getting flattened by lower-back tightness. "My body had responded very well, but when you start torquing ... I don't want to go out and take a cut at a 95-mile-per-hour fastball when I'm not ready." Even taking some indoor swings at 75-mile-per-hour pitches has forced Walker to take a step back. He began taking grounders Wednesday afternoon, but stayed away from bat work. So his return for this weekend's PNC Park series against the Cubs is very much in doubt. "We're on the outside looking in on that," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He tried swinging the bat once and had to back away." "The next step will come soon," Walker said, meaning picking a bat back up. "I don't think it will take me too long to get back in the swing of things." While calling on the patience to refrain from rushing back, Walker is reassured by expert opinions that there are no hidden dangers concerning a possible relapse. "I've talked to back specialists about whether there's the risk of coming back too early, and it was very encouraging for me to hear that as long as the inflammation is out of there and I feel right, I'm good to go," Walker said.
Holt's size hasn't held him back on offense
PITTSBURGH -- Could Brock Holt's Major League debut have commanded as much attention even if he was not a 5-foot-10 dynamo?Probably. But it would not have felt nearly as good for the 24-year-old who proves that not everything is bigger in Texas. "I wanted to do well this year and prove some people wrong," said Holt. "Prove to them that I can play this game, and play it at the highest level." He has done pretty well with that agenda: .322 in Double-A Altoona, .432 in Triple-A Indianapolis, and now six hits in his first 13 big league at-bats (.462). "I'm not the biggest guy, and I've always heard that. I've had to prove myself every step for the way," Holt said Wednesday afternoon before making his fourth straight start at second base, but the first against a left-hander, the Astros' Fernando Abad. "Out of high school to get into junior college, then in junior college to get a scholarship to a bigger college [Rice University in Texas], and then in college to get drafted. "I just continue to go out and play my game and enjoy it. I've been able to do that, and hopefully I can keep going." "He's made a pretty good first impression," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "It's not an accident that the kid has hit everywhere he's been. He can swing the bat." A parlor game customary for new faces -- "Who does he remind you of?" -- has begun with Holt. Many see in him a lot of David Eckstein, the 5-foot-6 two-time World Series-winning shortstop (with the 2002 Angels and the '06 Cardinals). While Hurdle had his own candidate (Larry Bowa), the manager had an even better suggestion: "Let him be Brock Holt, and let him keep going out there swinging it."
"He didn't miss a turn at the plate. He needs to get some at-bats. Five in State College did not ring my bell a whole lot -- not for jumping back into the National League."
-- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, trying to find something good to say about Starling Marte's 0-for-5 in his first rehab game on Tuesday night.
Wandy Rodriguez's win Tuesday was his 10th of the season, between the Astros and the Pirates. He has come within three wins -- finishing each season from 2006-08 with nine -- of joining CC Sabathia and Mark Buehrle as the only Major League lefties to win 10-plus every season since 2005. Outfielder Travis Snider will need "a few days," in manager Clint Hurdle's words, to recover from the strained right hamstring aggravation that knocked him out of Tuesday's game. One inning after replacing Snider, Jose Tabata fouled a pitch off his left foot -- and the contusion resulting from that forced him to be scratched from Wednesday's original lineup. As a result of the resulting batting-order shakeup, Alex Presley started in the eight-hole for the first time this season, and Clint Barmes made his third start at No. 2. Starling Marte was set to lead off and play center in Triple-A Indianapolis' playoff opener Wednesday night, after going 0-for-5 for Class A State College on Tuesday in his first rehab game.
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.