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Pirates notebook: Walker nearly back to full strength

| Tuesday, June 17, 2014, 7:24 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle stands with coaches and players to pause for a moment of silence honoring Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn before a game against the Reds Tuesday, June, 17, 2014, at PNC Park.

Neil Walker was planning to make Tuesday as normal as possible, taking batting practice and following the routine of a typical game day.

A week and a day after undergoing an appendectomy, Walker said he's almost back to full strength and doesn't have any pain after starting to swing the bat a little. No matter how great he feels the next week, however, the Pirates' second baseman won't be eligible to come off the disabled list until June 24.

“I'm gonna go crazy in the dugout,” Walker said Tuesday before the series opener against the Reds at PNC Park.

Manager Clint Hurdle said Walker would simulate being an extra man off the bench on Tuesday, meaning he'd go up to the cage, hit off the machine and start to see some velocity and spin. Hurdle said he can tell his second baseman is feeling much better.

“The more he does this,” Hurdle said, holding his hand up to show yapping, “the healthier he's getting. And we're getting a lot of yapping. He's come to see me twice today, which never happens when he's healthy. Never.”

In other injury news, Hurdle said Gerrit Cole (shoulder fatigue) has had no complications or setbacks from Sunday's side session and is close to throwing 60 pitches off a mound, and Francisco Liriano (oblique strain) could play catch on Thursday.

Hurdle: Gwynn a visionary

Hurdle said that in addition to having one of the purest swings ever, he could think of few others who could match how hard Tony Gwynn worked at his craft. Gwynn was a visionary, he said, in the construction of his pre-game routine and use of video analysis, often carrying his own VCR and cables to the ballpark in a knapsack. Hurdle also recalled what would become a running joke between the two of them after Gwynn's final trip to Colorado.

“I said, ‘I don't know how good you are, but you've been hot for, like, 18 years,' ” Hurdle said. “And he thought that was really funny. I didn't know how he would take it. I was ready to maybe cover up like I'd infuriate him, but he thought that was funny and we joked about it for years afterward.”

The Pirates held a moment of silence for both Gwynn and Chuck Noll prior to first pitch on Tuesday.

McCutchen 2nd in voting

Andrew McCutchen, who was in fourth place among outfielders in last week's National League All-Star voting, has jumped up to second in the most current rankings with 1,727,534 votes. McCutchen trails current outfield leader Yasiel Puig, of Los Angeles, with 1,942,701, and leads Miami's Giancarlo Stanton, who has 1,659,430 votes. The reigning NL MVP would become the first Pirates player to earn a fan selection since Jason Bay in 2006. Walker ranks second among second baseman with 997,347 votes, but is well behind the Phillies' Chase Utley, with 1,678,843.

Pirates sign 5 more picks

The Pirates signed another five picks from the 2014 draft class, including outfielder Connor Joe, their selection from the competitive balance “A” round. Joe was named the West Coast Conference player of the year after hitting .367 with 21 doubles, nine home runs and 51 RBIs in 53 games with San Diego. They also signed third-round pick Jordan Luplow, an outfielder from Fresno State; ninth-round pick Kevin Krause, a catcher from Stony Brook; 25th-round selection Erik Forgione, an infielder from Washington; and 30th-round pick David Andriese, an outfielder from UC-Riverside; to bring the total to 30 players signed, including 23 of their first 24 picks.

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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