Pirates Notebook: Walker makes first start in majors

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CINCINNATI -- And on his second day with his hometown club, Neil Walker started.

"It was fun," the Pirates' 11th-overall selection of the 2004 draft said afterward. "I had a lot of fun today."

His major league starting debut was memorable, if nothing else, for his activity around third base and at the plate:

Four at-bats, three with a teammate on first base.

Two putouts.

Two assists.

And his first big league error -- on a ball he dropped, gathered anew and still nearly threw out the Reds' Paul Janish at first.

That could have been the first out of an inning where a leadoff homer by Drew Stubbs already had tied the score. When Janish reached first base on that error, he became the first of four baserunners against Zach Duke in an inning where the Pirates' starting pitcher allowed two more runs, both unearned, en route to a 5-3 loss against Cincinnati for a Reds sweep of the four-game series at Great American Ball Park.

"Tried to get in front of the ball," said Walker, from Pine-Richland High. "Kind of misjudged it. Then tried to make up for it with the throw. Jonesy [Garrett Jones] did a great job of trying to save me. But Zach did a heck of a job today, and I feel like I messed up for him. I take responsibility for that."

Duke, however, absolved Walker: "I can't blame him for that. It was a great effort."

Jones collected the throw in time, but first base umpire Larry Vanover ruled that Jones' foot pulled away from the bag and called Janish safe.

"It's a tough play," Jones said of that one by Walker, a converted catcher who moved to third in 2007. "The ball was spinning, a short hop, and Neil tried to get rid of it quick. [The throw] started tailing a little bit. I thought when I caught it my foot was still on the base. But he said it came off. I tried to stay on it as long as I could."

At the plate, Walker struck out, flew out, grounded out and struck out again. Overall, the Pirates struck out eight times to Homer Bailey and 14 times in all among 46 plate appearances.

"It helped that I've been playing with Homer Bailey a long time," Walker said of a Class AAA nemesis. "From the minor leagues facing him, that was the best I've seen him, in terms of velocity and the way he was throwing strikes to both sides of the plate. He was good. He was very good.

"The first at-bat, after the first pitch, the jitters kind of went away," added Walker, who had made his major league debut as a pinch-batter the night before, when a hot smash was fielded by Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips ("I hit it to the Gold Glove"). "I felt pretty comfortable. That probably was because it was a 12 o'clock game, no sitting around" all day.

Pirates manager John Russell's assessment of Walker's first full day of major league work: "He was a little jittery at first. His at-bats were OK. He didn't seem overmatched."

No more than the rest of the Pirates as Bailey won his third consecutive decision -- two of them against the Pirates.

Buried treasure

• Oakland claimed John Meloan off waivers yesterday, two days after he was designated for assignment by the Pirates, who needed a 40-man roster spot for pitcher Daniel McCutchen. Meloan had been with the Pirates less than three weeks after being claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay in mid-August.

• After a scoreless inning yesterday, Joel Hanrahan has allowed three earned runs over his past 23 games for a 1.27 ERA in that span. At 5.43 overall, he has sliced more than two runs off the bloated ERA he carried from Washington.

Lastings Milledge doubled and walked in four plate appearances and is hitting .396 with 3 doubles, 2 homers, 5 RBIs and 10 runs in his past 16 games.


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