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Pirates notebook: Injuries can leave roster in limbo

| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 6:45 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker flies out against the Brewers on Monday, May 13, 2013, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker forces out the Braves' Juan Francisco during the second inning Thursday, April 18, 2013, at PNC Park.

When Russell Martin got back in action Tuesday, it marked the end of a weeklong stretch during which the Pirates' bench was short-handed practically every day.

It is not always immediately clear whether a player needs to go on the disabled list. An injury can be bad enough that he'll definitely be out a few days, but 15 days might be more down time than is necessary.

“The entire process is really frustrating,” Neil Walker said. “It puts a lot of pressure on a lot of people. You've got to do what's right for the team and yourself at the same time.”

How long can a team carry a player before his iffy status becomes too much of a problem? That's the quandary manager Clint Hurdle found himself in recently because of injuries to Walker (hand laceration) and Martin (stiff neck). Walker wound up on the DL; Martin didn't.

“For a normal (everyday) player, I try to give it five days max,” Hurdle said. “This is the first time I've gone with one catcher basically for a week.”

Martin was scratched from the lineup May 7 after his neck locked up during pregame warmups. He played two days later, but the pain flared up again.

“You can play through some soreness,” Martin said. “But when you're playing a position where there can be contact, you want your neck to feel like it can support your head.”

Although the club did not make it public at the time, Martin was not cleared to play the final three games of the series against the New York Mets. He also sat out Monday's game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

“They kind of gave me an extra day (Monday) to make sure I was ready,” Martin said. “I don't have 100 percent range of motion, but there's no soreness. I don't feel like I've got to be cautious out there.”

Michael McKenry started six games while Martin was out. Tony Sanchez was brought up from Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday to be on the “taxi squad” in case another setback put Martin on the DL. Martin recovered, and Sanchez went back to the minors without being activated.

Walker was spiked on his hand April 26 in St. Louis but did not go on the DL until May 3. The Pirates had a four-man bench for five games while he was in limbo.

“If you can compete and you're not putting yourself in any more jeopardy, you try to do it,” Walker said. “But if you're hurting the team — as a National League team, you know you're gonna use your bench — you've got to do what's right. It's not easy.”

Running wild

Through Monday, opponents had run off 21 straight successful stolen bases against the Pirates. Sixteen of those thefts came with McKenry behind the plate, including six in Monday's game.

“On anything but a slide step, they were going,” Hurdle said. “We had some shots to throw some people out, and we were unable to convert on the back end of it. A.J. (Burnett) gave it everything he had, but Mac wasn't able to make the proper adjustments.”

It was only the 10th time in franchise history the Brewers swiped six or more bags in a game. But it was the second time they did it in their past four games at PNC Park. The Brewers stole seven bases Sept. 18, 2012. The Pirates' battery that day was Burnett and Rod Barajas.

Cheesebacca

Closer Jason Grilli turned a few heads Tuesday by hanging a furry, full-body Chewbacca costume in his locker.

“It's the one thing I wanted when I signed my contract,” joked Grilli. “Russ Martin bought it for me. It's great, just ... awesome.”

The costume is a replica of the one worn by actor Peter Mayhew in the “Star Wars” movies. Grilli, 36, is a self-described “child of the '80s” and longtime “Star Wars” devotee. When he was pitching in the minors in 2005, a “Star Wars” fanfest came to Indianapolis. Grilli and some of his teammates went in through a back door.

“We didn't have tickets, so we sneaked in,” Grilli said.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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