Pirates notebook: Balky back slows Walker again

Neil Walker’s nagging lower-back tightness kept the second baseman out of the Pirates starting lineup for a second consecutive night Thursday and for the fourth time in the past five games.

Manager Clint Hurdle said he planned to “stay away from him” in the game Thursday night but said there was some progress made during his pregame work a day earlier.

“I think there was some improvement. I’m trusting the people that I talk to and I’m trusting Neil,” said Hurdle. “And, what he felt was real the first time back, seemed to me, was a little, maybe too quick? So we’ll give him more time to see if the next time we plug him in we can keep him in.”

Hurdle said Walker felt better Thursday and was treated in the afternoon when he got to PNC Park, and would be treated again before the game.

“I think he’s going to try and do some mobility, flexibility stuff,” said Hurdle before the game. “I don’t know if he’ll hit on the field, he may hit in the cage.”

Walker was available Wednesday night only in an emergency.

McCutchen improves

The Pirates are waiting to see how center fielder Andrew McCutchen recovers from the fractured rib in the game Sunday before making a decision about whether or not he will be placed on the disabled list.

“He’s gotten better,” said Hurdle. “He’s adding more to his return to recovery.”

As for a trip to the DL?

“It’s still wait and see. There’s a chance,” said Hurdle.

Barmes makes progress

Shortstop Clint Barmes began taking batting practice and doing field work during the homestand. He has done running drills, perimeter drills, along with mobility and agility drills.

The next step is running the bases.

“Baserunning will be picking up this homestand as well,” said Hurdle. “As soon as he can show the ability to run bases, turn bases, stop, pick up, go, we’ll then sketch out and outline a plan for him to go to rehab.”

Barmes went on the disabled list with a groin strain July 6.

Alvarez update

There was an outside chance that Pedro Alvarez could have returned to Pittsburgh Thursday night from bereavement leave.

Hurdle and Alvarez talked earlier this week, leaving Thursday as a possibility for the third baseman’s return to town.

Hurdle said that is “not in cement” and he hadn’t yet confirmed a plan with Alvarez.

Hurdle on La Russa

Hurdle responded to comments made by Tony La Russa to the Arizona Republic this week, that intimated that the Diamondbacks chief baseball officer believes the Pirates philosophy of pitching up and in is what was ultimately responsible for what went down in the series last weekend, regardless of intent.

“That’s the lens in which Tony’s using to share his thoughts,” said Hurdle. “I have a ton of personal and professional respect Tony. I see things from a different lens. We try and pitch aggressively to both sides of the plate. We have not taken up an initiative to pitch dangerously. He’s entitled to his opinion.”

Jenn Menendez jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.

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