Pirates Notebook: Intangibles hold back Walker

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Neil Walker is doing pretty much everything well, offensively and defensively, toward earning a promotion to the Pirates, but he apparently has more to prove to management off the field.

Walker has had issues with a lack of hustle and failing to heed instruction at Class AAA Indianapolis, general manager Neal Huntington said in an interview Sunday, and that was one reason why Steve Pearce was promoted rather than Walker when a position player was needed last week and both had exemplary numbers.

"We had a decision to make, who to bring up, and it should have been a very, very difficult choice because both guys were doing everything they needed in terms of productivity and performance," Huntington said. "Where it became easier was with the intangibles. They're both great people, but we're holding our organization to a certain standard. We play the game hard. We play the game the right way."

Walker, the 24-year-old 2005 first-round draft pick out of Pine-Richland High School, is batting .330 with five home runs -- the fifth came Sunday -- and 23 RBIs, all while adding second base and the corner outfield spots to his standard third base.

Frank Kremblas, Indianapolis' manager, and Kyle Stark, the Pirates' director of player development, are firm disciplinarians, which is part of the equation. The other, according to the team, is that Walker, in addition to failing to run out a popup last week, has generally reacted poorly when disciplined.

"We're not isolating Neil," Huntington said. "We're challenging a lot of guys, and there are challenges like that across baseball in systems that do it the right way. If you want to coddle and pamper your athletes, then you won't have any issues. But you'll also have underachieving athletes."

Church's wrist bruised

Outfielder Ryan Church was held out of the lineup this weekend because of a bruised right wrist sustained when hit by a pitch in his final at-bat Friday.

X-rays showed no fracture.

He was able to hit off a tee this morning and might be cleared for a batting practice in the next couple of days.

Before the weekend, Church had started seven games in a row and had homered twice in the final four of those.

"That's the part that hurts," he said. "I was just getting comfortable."

Karstens to pen

Pitcher Jeff Karstens will move to the bullpen for the time being, manager John Russell said, and Brian Burres will fill the next fifth-starter spot Friday in Chicago.

Russell praised Karstens' effectiveness in two of three starts -- including six scoreless innings Saturday against St. Louis -- but said management looked at Ross Ohlendorf's return tonight and an off-day coming Thursday and decided it would take too long to get Karstens back on the mound as a starter.

"Let's see where we go," Russell added of anything beyond next weekend.

Ohlendorf's start will be his first since his season debut April 7, after which he experienced back spasms.

A pitcher will have to be sent out to clear space on the 25-man roster for Ohlendorf, and that almost certainly will be Brian Bass.

Buried treasure

• Pitcher Chris Jakubauskas still is experiencing concussion symptoms from that April 24 line drive to the head. He had a light tossing session Friday but felt dizzy upon returning to the bench, Russell said. With concussions, there has to be an extended period of being symptom-free before being cleared.

• Reliever Brendan Donnelly, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique, played catch Sunday morning and appears to be on track for a May 19 return, first game after the upcoming five-game road trip.

• Pitcher Kevin Hart, who had shoulder surgery last week, will continue to be considered a starter upon his return next spring, Huntington said, though he is open to trying Hart in relief.

• There is no plan to move top prospect Pedro Alvarez from third base to first, Huntington reiterated.

• The Pirates and Cardinals, as part of Major League Baseball's push for breast cancer awareness, wore pink wristbands, and several players used pink bats. On the Pirates' side, it was Garrett Jones, Andy LaRoche, Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, Aki Iwamura, Ryan Church, Bobby Crosby, Jason Jaramillo and Delwyn Young.


Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more at PBC Blog .


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