As the Pirates make their decision about the next step for Andrew McCutchen, they must evaluate the risks a return to action might pose to his fractured rib in addition to determining when that return to action could happen.
"There is a re-aggravation possibility that we're trying to weigh in as we push forward with the decision whether to keep him active or to go ahead and put him on the disabled list and give him an extended time to heal," general manager Neal Huntington said.
McCutchen did not start for a fourth consecutive game Friday after suffering an avulsion fracture involving cartilage of a rib on the lower left side of his torso Sunday. Manager Clint Hurdle usually gives his players a four-day window to see if they can avoid the disabled list, with a decision coming on the fifth day, but Hurdle said a player of McCutchen's caliber earns a few more days.
"When you're talking about your MVP, you're talking about five, hopefully six opportunities for him to impact the game, whether it's on offense, or maybe there's two or three plays on defense, or maybe there's a play or two on the bases where he can impact the game," Huntington said.
"When you're talking about a guy like Andrew, you are a little bit more patient in the process."
Hurdle said McCutchen had swung the bat, and that the training staff has added exercises to McCutchen's routine.
"Progressing in a positive fashion as of now," Hurdle said.
Alvarez practices at first
The Pirates activated Pedro Alvarez from the bereavement list before the game Friday and designated right-handed pitcher Ernesto Frieri for assignment.
Alvarez fielded ground balls at first base during batting practice, with infield coach Nick Leyva and first baseman Gaby Sanchez looking on. The Pirates have acknowledged that Alvarez might need to change positions at some point, with first base the most likely destination, but indicated that such a move likely would not take place until after the season.
Frieri joined the Pirates in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for reliever Jason Grilli. He had a 10.13 ERA with the Pirates in 14 outings, allowing 14 hits and 12 runs in 102/3 innings. The move leaves the Pirates one short in the bullpen for the time being.
The Pirates have 10 days to trade or release Frieri. They can also assign him to the minor leagues if he clears waivers. Frieri has enough service time to reject an outright assignment but not enough to collect the remainder of his $3.8 million salary if he does so.
Cole's rehab start Sunday
Gerrit Cole is scheduled to make another rehab start Sunday for Class AAA Indianapolis. Hurdle did not know the specifics of the length of Cole's outing.
"Last time, it went to 70 pitches in less than five [innings]," Hurdle said. "We'd like to see more innings, more ups and downs, more pitches."
Cole has been on the disabled list for a month because of soreness in the right latissimus dorsi muscle in his back.
Walker remains out
Second baseman Neil Walker missed his fifth game out of the past six when he sat out the opener against the San Diego Padres because of tightness in his lower back.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.