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Pirates notebook: Walker rejoins team, will play Tuesday

| Monday, June 23, 2014, 6:57 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker takes batting practice as Josh Harrison looks on before a game against the Reds on Wednesday, June 17, 2014, at PNC Park.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When the Pirates arrived at Tropicana Field on Monday afternoon, Neil Walker was waiting for them.

Walker, who had an appendectomy June 10, is eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday. Instead of playing in another rehab game with High-A Bradenton on Monday night, Walker opted to take swings in Gerrit Cole's simulated game at the Trop.

“It was (Walker's) call,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “By him showing up today, it kind of told us he's ready to go.”

Walker played in a simulated game Friday at Pirate City. He had workouts Saturday and played nine innings with Bradenton on Sunday.

“(Sunday) was a good day,” Walker said. “I got five plate appearances and dove once (in the field). The biggest concern was what it was going to feel like to dive on my stomach. I got that out of the way, and it was fine. I played nine innings, ran the bases, moved around the field and made some plays. It was as much as I could ask for.”

Walker will be activated before Tuesday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Although the Pirates will use a designated hitter in the interleague game, Walker will start at second base.

“I believe he's capable,” Hurdle said. “So, I don't have any hesitation to play him in the field.”

The Pirates will play a day game after a night game Wednesday, which can be a good time to give regulars a rest. Walker, however, doesn't want any more downtime.

“I'm preparing to jump right back in and play every day,” Walker said. “My mindset is, I'm coming back to be in the same role, as far as playing every day.”

Polanco and then ... who?

Walker went on the DL the same day Gregory Polanco made his debut. Starling Marte, who left Saturday to attend to a personal matter in the Dominican Republic, rejoined the team Monday.

That means Tuesday will be the first time the Pirates will have all their everyday starters ready to go. Hurdle spent some of his free time early Monday toying with possible lineups.

“I do believe we will keep Polanco at the top of the lineup,” Hurdle said.

Walker has batted second in a team-high 35 games. Marte and Josh Harrison filled in nicely while Walker was out. Hurdle indicated Walker will go in the 2-hole, unless he struggles at the plate.

“The challenge for any player coming back after two weeks off is rhythm and timing,” Hurdle said. “I've had guys go out for 30 at-bats on a rehab, then come back and experience the same thing as a more experienced guy who only went out for a game or two. We'll see how it plays out. Hopefully, (Walker) can be one of those guys who can find a spark sooner than later upon his return.”

Walker has a .280 batting average and an .805 on-base plus slugging percentage. Despite missing two weeks, he and Andrew McCutchen are tied for second on the team lead with 11 home runs.

“I feel as good as I did before (the surgery),” Walker said. “Fortunately, this injury wasn't a wrist, an elbow or a knee — nothing mechanical(-related). My biggest concern was getting back into my routine as soon as I was capable of it, as far as my cage work and my hitting. There will be a little bit of an adjustment period, as far as dealing with the adrenaline and what not, but I think I'm right where I need to be.”

Cole close to return

Cole (right shoulder fatigue) threw 84 pitches in his six-inning sim game, and Hurdle was pleased with what he saw. Cole is expected to come off the DL on Saturday, but it's not clear how that will affect the makeup of the starting rotation. Hurdle has not yet announced his starters for the games Thursday and Friday against the New York Mets.

When Cole returns, either Brandon Cumpton or Jeff Locke could be sent back to Triple-A Indianapolis. Saturday would be Edinson Volquez's next turn in the rotation, but he could be pushed back a day so Cole can pitch.

All-Star update

Walker and outfielder Andrew McCutchen are in second place at their respective positions in the latest round of fan voting for the All-Star Game. McCutchen has 2,461,722 votes and trails Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers by 6,654. Among second baseman, Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies leads with 2,090,110, and Walker has 1,328,959.

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

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