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Pirates notebook: Walker takes swings, feels close to returning

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vs. CUBS7:05 p.m. Saturday, PNC Park

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Probable pitchers: Cubs RHP Jeff Samardzija (8-13, 3.91 ERA) vs. Pirates RHP James McDonald (12-7, 3.90 ERA)

1:35 p.m. Sunday: Cubs LHP Chris Rusin (0-2, 9.00 ERA) vs. Pirates LHP Jeff Locke (0-1, 4.82 ERA)

7:10 p.m. Monday: Pirates TBA vs. Reds RHP Mat Latos (12-4, 3.69 ERA)

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, 7:59 p.m.

Second baseman Neil Walker missed his 10th consecutive game Friday with lower back tightness but said, after taking 30 right-handed swings for the first time, he feels like he's close to returning.

“The inflammation's pretty much all the way out of there, so that's the most important thing,” he said. “I was able to swing today, which was good. The moving up and down and left and right hasn't been an issue, so the biggest hurdle's been swinging.”

Walker said the problem is on the lower left side, so finishing the swing from that side will be the biggest issue over the next few days as he tests the torquing motion.

“I feel pretty confident that I'm going to recover well,” he said. “We'll see how my body reacts (Saturday).”

• Outfielder Starling Marte returned to the lineup, making his first start since Aug. 18 after a stint on the disabled list with a right oblique strain. Marte batted second behind Brock Holt. Manager Clint Hurdle made the decision based on what he's seen from Holt the past four games. “(Holt's) been playing at major league game speed,” Hurdle said. “Marte's going to catch up a little bit. I thought I'd slide him in that spot right in front of Andrew (McCutchen) and see if that's some benefit as well.”

• Outfielder Jose Tabata (left foot contusion) was scheduled to hit Friday then work moving around in the outfield. Hurdle said he anticipated having Tabata available off the bench.

• Pitcher Jeff Karstens (hip flexor) has been playing catch but has yet to throw a bullpen session. That should soon change, Hurdle said, but Karstens is likely to miss another start.

• Pitcher Chad Qualls (left toe irritation) threw a simulated game Friday and is on schedule to come off the disabled list Sunday.

— Karen Price

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