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Pirates notebook: Cole on track for return to starting rotation

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 5:42 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media file
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole takes the field for his 2014 season debut against the Cardinals on Friday, April 4, 2014, at PNC Park.

WASHINGTON — Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole is expected to come off the disabled list this week, but management has not yet decided whose spot he will take in the rotation.

Cole has been out since July 5 because of right lat soreness. He tossed seven scoreless innings Friday in his fourth rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis. Cole threw 92 pitches, allowed five hits and one walk. He struck out three.

“He's passed all the tests,” manager Clint Hurdle said Saturday. “We have every anticipation we'll activate him when we determine when his next time to pitch up here will be.”

If he stays on a normal routine, Cole's next turn to pitch would be Wednesday. That's also when right-hander Charlie Morton is scheduled to start.

Morton has scuffled since early July, so he could skip that start Wednesday and work on the side to try to get back on track.

If Morton stays put, Cole could throw and extra bullpen session and start Friday's series opener against the Brewers in Milwaukee. In that case, left-hander Jeff Locke would be sent to Indianapolis until rosters expand Sept. 1.

Could the displaced starter work out of the Pirates' bullpen?

“It all depends on who that guy is,” Hurdle said. “The guys we're talking about, I don't believe any of them have pitched in the bullpen with any regularity. That doesn't mean that can't happen. We've still got a couple of conversations ongoing.”

McCutchen, Mercer make progress

Andrew McCutchen (rib fracture) ramped up his workouts in the batting cage and on the basepaths.

“He's looking good,” Hurdle said. “He wants to add some velocity and spin — breaking balls, hard sliders — off the (pitching) machine. We're very optimistic.”

McCutchen is eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday, but Hurdle still insists there is no timetable for when McCutchen will return.

Hurdle said Jordy Mercer (right forearm tightness) will not have to go on the DL. Mercer felt better Saturday, and doctors found no structural damage.

“We feel confident that he'll be able to return well within 15 days,” Hurdle said. “Until then, we'll try to limit his activity.”

Day off for Walker

After playing Friday night, Neil Walker was not in the starting lineup Saturday.

Walker said it was a pre-planned move to protect his cranky lower back.

“I feel the same as I did (Friday). We're just playing it safe,” Walker said. “We're keeping the workload low at the beginning.”

Hurdle said Walker will start the games Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Walker probably will be rested again Wednesday to piggy-back his time off with an off day Thursday.

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

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