NEW YORK -- When the Pirates activate Neil Walker, thoughts of the future and protection against the present may force them to send down Jordy Mercer.
Walker, who can come off the 15-day disabled list at any time, is expected to join the Pirates in time for a game tonight against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park. Manager Clint Hurdle said Mercer's development came into play in the decision-making process. Between Walker and Clint Barmes, the playing time for Mercer will decrease.
"I think one of the questions at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, do you want Jordy Mercer up here as an extra man, or do you want to continue to try to develop him as a shortstop?" Hurdle said. "If another opportunity presents [itself] you can always go get him."
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, Radio:
Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
- Probable starters:
RHP Marco Estrada (2-2, 6.05 ERA) vs. RHP A.J. Burnett (3-3, 2.57).
- Key matchup:
Estrada vs. Andrew McCutchen, who is 7 for 19 with two home runs against Estrada in his career.
- Hidden stat:
Burnett's 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings leads the National League.
Mercer, 26, hit .258 with three home runs in nine games with the Pirates this season. He hit .333 with a .404 on-base percentage in 26 games at Class AAA Indianapolis to start the season.
"It's been a positive experience," Mercer said Saturday after a game, when he hit two home runs in an 11-2 Pirates win against the New York Mets. "I'm excited to see what the future holds."
Because Mercer has minor league options, the Pirates can retain him in the minors without cutting ties with John McDonald -- the only other logical move to put Walker on the roster. Minor league shortstop Chase d'Arnaud is still a few weeks away from returning after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb.
"You want to maintain all your assets," Hurdle said. "Why move people when you don't have to move them? Why release somebody when you can option [somebody]. We're trying to make sure we're mindful of that as well."
D'Arnaud recently started playing in extended spring training games. He was hit with a pitch in the wrist Saturday, Hurdle said, but X-rays revealed no breaks.
Sanchez sent back
Seeing enough improvement in Russell Martin's stiff neck, the Pirates on Sunday opted against activating Tony Sanchez and returned the minor league catcher to Class AAA Indianapolis.
Sanchez joined the Pirates in New York, but was not activated, after Martin experienced more stiffness in his neck.
"Enough improvement that we feel we can cover the game in case something might happen to Michael [McKenry], with Russell or a combination thereof of Russell or somebody else," Hurdle said.
McDonald is the emergency catcher.
Sanchez would have aided the Pirates in the event that a rainout forced a doubleheader Sunday. The forecast for Saturday called for storms, and a 47-minute rain delay stopped the game in the ninth inning. The brief trip had ancillary benefits as well, Hurdle said.
"I never think it's a bad thing when you can get a player like Tony up, for whether it be a day or whatever," Hurdle said. "The acclimation part, getting him up here, getting him with the boys, checking in, seeing him, looking at him, talking to him."
Charlie Morton will throw a bullpen session today, rather than Sunday as originally scheduled. If that goes well, he will throw four innings or 65 pitches Thursday for Class AA Altoona. ... Jeff Karstens is scheduled to throw three innings or 50 pitches today for Class A Bradenton.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.