Pirates notebook: Neil Walker due to return at second tonight

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Pirates’ plan to activate Neil Walker from the disabled list today remained on track after Walker batted against Gerrit Cole in a simulated game Monday, manager Clint Hurdle said.

Walker played nine innings at second base Sunday for Class A Bradenton and went 1 for 4 with a walk. He also dived for a ball, allowing him to experience the feeling of sliding on the scar left from his appendectomy.

“It was all instincts, all reaction,” Walker said. “It did cross my mind as far as what it would feel like, but knowing what it feels like just touching it, touching the scars and things like that, it didn’t bother me. It was good to get it out of the way.”

Walker said his legs were slightly sore due to the recent increase in activity, but he was encouraged that the appendicitis and resulting procedure did not force him to change his swing mechanics.

“I don’t think I’m far removed,” Walker said. “It will take a little bit of an adjustment period with all the adrenaline and whatnot once the game-speed stuff gets up, but I think I’m right where I need to be.”

Hurdle said he intends to play Walker at second base instead of using him as the designated hitter while in an American League ballpark. The Pirates must open a spot for Walker on the active roster.

The Harrison quandary

Walker’s return will eliminate Josh Harrison’s regular playing time, but Hurdle said he intends to find starts for Harrison elsewhere. Since becoming an everyday player — first in right field, then at second base — in mid-May, Harrison had hit .310 with a .357 on-base percentage and .473 slugging percentage in his past 31 games, all starts, before Monday night.

“A guy that’s doing the things he’s been doing to help the club, he needs to be a priority to finding reps right now,” Hurdle said.

Hurdle mentioned left and right field, second base — possibly against left-handed pitchers — and third base as places to work Harrison in the lineup.

Cole fares well

Cole threw six innings and 84 pitches in his simulated game Monday at Tropicana Field.

“Threw his two-seamer, his four-seamer, his curveball probably more than his slider,” Hurdle said.

“His changeup was good. The finish to his fastball was firm and solid. We’ll see how he feels [today], but I thought it was a very good next challenge from at least the perspective today that he was able to meet and do well with.”

Cole, on the DL because of fatigue in his right shoulder, is tentatively scheduled to return to the rotation Saturday, but Hurdle did not disclose the rotation for the home series this weekend against the New York Mets.

Marte back in country, lineup

Starling Marte, who missed the previous two games while attending to a personal situation in his native Dominican Republic, returned to the lineup Monday.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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