WASHINGTON -- After the Pirates landed in the nation's capital Sunday night, a team official received a call from Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman, who denied that an off-color remark he made during that afternoon's broadcast was directed at starter Jeff Locke.
After Locke walked a batter on four consecutive pitches, Brennaman whispered, "This guy sucks," likely believing he was out of range of the microphone. Sports media blog Awful Announcing published a video clip Sunday afternoon after the Pirates' 3-2 victory, and it quickly spread throughout social media.
"He actually said to [Pirates media relations director] Dan Hart that he thinks the world of me, that I have a bright future ahead of me," Locke said. "I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing to be successful."
Brennaman offered to speak directly to Locke, who said that wasn't necessary. Locke said it was a "real gentleman move" of Brennaman to call.
"It's really not a big deal to me," he said. "Any kind of reaction like that obviously isn't really true. To be honest, no matter who says anything, it wouldn't be the first person this season. And I promise you it won't be the last."
Teammate A.J. Burnett and minor league teammate Tony Sanchez rushed to Locke's defense on Twitter and chastised Brennaman. Locke said he appreciated his teammates sticking up for him and was touched by an outpouring of support from Pirates fans.
Locke is 9-2 with a 2.11 ERA, earning an All-Star spot in his first full season in the majors.
Walker's return likely today
Second baseman Neil Walker (right oblique) joined the Pirates in Washington Monday but was not added to the 25-man roster.
He likely will be activated from the disabled list today, the second day he is eligible to come off of it.
Walker credited the four-day All-Star break for giving him the rest he needed to recover from an injury that happened July 6 against the Chicago Cubs.
He said he felt strong in his oblique, though sore throughout his body after playing three consecutive rehabilitation games for Class AAA Indianapolis.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates wanted to give Walker a day off -- and submit him to a new series of tests -- before they are comfortable activating him.
Walker went 2 for 9 in his rehab stint.
Nationals manager unhappy
A few hours before the game, the Nationals fired hitting coach Rick Eckstein and replaced him with Rick Schu, the organization's minor league hitting coordinator.
General manager Mike Rizzo made the decision over the objections of manager Davey Johnson, who called it "a shocker" and said, "Today, arguably, is the toughest day I've had in baseball. It hurts. It hurts."
Little more than a month ago, Johnson had said of Eckstein, the hitting coach since 2009, "If you want to fire the hitting coach, you might as well fire me right with him."
The Nationals had lost three games in a row and eight of 10 and were a disappointing 48-50 going into the game Monday night in large part because of their weak offense.
Their .240 batting average was lower than the Pirates' (.243). They had scored two or fewer runs in 44 of their first 98 games.
"I feel like a part of me is gone, too," Johnson said after telling Eckstein he was out.
A first for Grilli
With his save Sunday, Jason Grilli became the fastest Pirates pitcher to reach 30 saves in a season. It took Grilli 96 games to reach the 30-save mark. Joel Hanrahan was the previous record-holder, needing 98 games to get his 30th save of the season last year.
The save became an official statistic in 1969.
Staff writer Ron Cook contributed. Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino.