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Rossi: Walker's back another blow to Bucs

| Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
The Pirates' Neil Walker strikes out while pinch-hitting against the Padres Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
The Pirates' Neil Walker strikes out while pinch-hitting against the Padres Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, at PNC Park.

Neil Walker's bad back is at the crossroads. It has company.

Things are not good for the Pirates right now. Walker having a bad back isn't helping.

That's rough, but so is a baseball season. So is baseball, actually. More than most people realize. Bodies break down over 162 games. Ligaments tear. Bones break. The occasional oblique strains (really) and backs tighten.

It's just that this baseball season had started to seem so promising for the Pirates before a weekend that went all wrong.

Make that a second straight weekend that went all wrong.

Losing a series to San Diego probably didn't doom the Pirates to their 21st October without postseason baseball in the last 22 years. However, failing to win this series after settling for a split at Arizona last weekend — well, there were better ways for the Pirates to position themselves in the playoff chase.

It feels like this is going to be a chase for the Pirates, too. Hard to imagine a squad overcoming so much significant trouble to overtake Milwaukee for the division, especially since the Pirates are 3-10 against the first-place Brewers. Six of those losses came in April, when the Pirates were lousy.

Of course, Pedro Alvarez could throw to first base in April.

Gerrit Cole could pitch in April.

Andrew McCutchen could do everything that he does in April. The same goes for Walker.

Remember last summer and the swooning Pittsburghers did over “Cutch,” “El Toro,” the “Real Deal” and “Cole 45”?

Time waits for no men, perhaps especially the most promising of young ballplayers. Against the Padres on Sunday at PNC Park, the Pirates did get a swinging strikeout from Alvarez. He pinch-hit in the eighth inning.

Alvarez has 33 plate appearances since the All-Star break. He had 36 home runs last season. Let that linger before forming an opinion on what his throwing troubles could cost the Pirates over their final 45 games.

They're not going anywhere unless Alvarez gets into the lineup consistently and carries an offense that failed to score a run after the first inning in each of the past three games. Alvarez should start against Detroit on Monday night, and since the game is at home he will just have to go ahead and hold the hot corner. He has to try, anyway.

Maybe the Pirates can't count on Alvarez over these final two months. Can they count on either McCutchen or Walker?

McCutchen is said to be progressing from his avulsion fracture of the ... look, it's his left side, it's still being heavily iced and nobody should expect him to look MVP-like when he does return. Fake a swinging motion. Pretend to throw. Imagine a piercing pain in your side. You get the idea.

Now think about fielding a ground ball with a back so sore that you have to walk on your heels, as Walker did Sunday through the clubhouse. Again, you get the idea.

To manager Clint Hurdle's credit, not one of his players dared hint at being worried before or after an 8-2 loss to San Diego. They were so defiant that a second look at the scorecard was required to verify that McCutchen, Alvarez and Walker weren't the 3-4-5 hitters.

The 3-4-5 hitters were Josh Harrison, Ike Davis and Jordy Mercer.

Not placing McCutchen or Walker on the 15-day disabled list was a calculated risk by general manager Neal Huntington.

Still, some sort of move has to be coming soon because there is a way to calculate what another 12 at-bats in one week by Michael Martinez might do to the Pirates' playoff chances.

They decrease.

The Pirates' remaining games are against teams with a .501 winning percentage. They just ended a 50-35 run against teams with a .497 winning percentage. Their 12-20 start came against teams with a .519 winning percentage.

Basically, nobody has any idea how good this team is, even when healthy.

A .500 finish gets them to 85 wins, and nobody knows if those will be enough for a playoff berth, either.

All anybody knows is that Walker's bad back is at the crossroads. Hurdle said that Sunday before the Pirates played with a lineup that reminded fans of when PNC Park was the gallows.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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