Walker in starting lineup


CINCINNATI — As one Tweeter put it this morning, the calvary has begun to arrive.

The Pirates called up Neil Walker to replace Steve Pearce, who went on the 15-day disabled list with a badly sprained right ankle. Walker is the first of the “big four” prospects — the group also includes Jose Tabata, Brad Lincoln and Pedro Alvarez — whom everyone’s been waiting to see in the majors.

“I think I’m more prepared than I’ve ever been,” Walker said. “I’m ready for whatever opportunity they give me.”

I’ve been asked a lot already today if Walker will be a starter. He’s in the lineup tonight at third base — Andy LaRoche (sore back) will miss his fourth game in a row.

But in the long run? I asked GM Neal Huntington, who sent this email response:

“Neil will be used as a corner utility player who can help us with his versatility and bat. As with any player in his situation, he will (get) playing time off the bench and in spot starts.”

Walker drove this morning from Indy to Cincinnati, and is expected to be in uniform for tonight’s game against the Reds. Walker has become a super-utility player — adding second base, first base and outfield to his repertoire. That should come in handy, given LaRoche’s off-and-on back pain, Jeff Clement’s hitting woes and Aki Iwamura’s overall struggles.

Walker was drafted in 2004 as a catcher, and showed during spring training that he could resume that role in a hurry without problem. But for the past three seasons, he’s been used almost exclusively as a third baseman.

Monday, Delwyn Young started at third base with LaRoche again too stiff to play. Young had three doubles and two RBI, but also made a throwing error which led to Pearce’s injury and an unearned run.

Young was visibly unhappy when he looked at the lineup card before the game and saw he was at third base.

“It’s still not his most comfortable place to be,” manager John Russell said. “But with Andy being out and we’re trying to get a little more offense … “

So, the Pirates have to take the good with the bad?

“I wouldn’t call it bad,” Russell said. “It’s not … his most comfortable spot.”

Walker is comfortable at third and would be adequate at first. His skills are weakest at second base.

At Triple-A Indianapolis, Walker hit .321 with six homers, 26 RBI and 10 stolen bases. He ranked sixth in the International League in batting average, first in doubles (18), third in total bases (94), fourth in slugging percentage (.560) and was tied for 10th in steals.

Walker, 24, was the Pirates’ first-round draft pick in 2004 out of Pine-Richland High. Last year, as a late-season callup, he played in 17 games for the Pirates and hit .194.

– Lefty Donnie Veal was placed on the seven-day DL at Triple-A Indianapolis due to elbow tightness. “Hope to know more today,” said farm director Kyle Stark.

– Righty Daniel McCutchen (arm fatigue) came off the DL and will start tonight for Indy against Gwinnett.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (19-26) – 1. Aki Iwamura 2b, 2. Neil Walker 3b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Ryan Church rf, 6. Lastings Milledge lf, 7. Ryan Doumit c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Paul Maholm (3-4, 4.50) lhp

Reds (26-19) – 1. Chris Heisey rf, 2. Brandon Phillips 2b, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Scott Rolen 3b, 5. Jonny Gomes lf, 6. Ramon Hernandez c, 7. Drew Stubbs cf, 8. Paul Janish ss, 9. Mike Leake (4-0, 2.91) rhp