ST. LOUIS -- It wasn't clear what had most upset Dodgers right-hander Joe Blanton to the point of accosting the home-plate umpire following his removal from Thursday's game at PNC Park:The fact that he had walked Andrew McCutchen three times -- matching the respected control pitcher's highest total in any game in two years -- or that Garrett Jones had followed two of the walks with the three-run homers that keyed the Pirates' 10-6 win? But the biggest takeaway from those sequences was clear: If pitchers are going to increasingly avoid the Major Leagues' top hitter, cleanup batter Jones' responses will be critical to keeping the Pittsburgh offense productive. "Garrett has become the one guy who can cover for Andrew," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had a couple of exclamation points [Thursday]. He's been doing that on a pretty regular basis." Jones certainly has: Of his 45 RBIs driving in a teammate (his total of 64 minus the 19 homers on which he "drove" himself in), 20 have scored McCutchen. There may not be many more obvious opportunities to step up as there were on Thursday, McCutchen's first three-walk game of the season. One of the most remarkable aspects of McCutchen's breakout is that he is walking at a slower rate than in any of his first three seasons -- supporting Hurdle's perception that ego (or confidence) driven pitchers no longer pitch around people as they once did. Even as a rookie in 2009, McCutchen walked more often -- 54 times in 493 plate appearances, compared to the 48 in 482 he took into Friday night's game; McCutchen drew 89 walks in 678 plate appearances last year, while batting .259. "People nowadays just feel they can get anyone out," Hurdle said. "The last couple of guys I didn't see get pitched to were [Albert] Pujols and [Barry] Bonds. You just don't see it often."
Walker able to work despite injured finger
ST. LOUIS -- Two days after writhing in agony with a dislocated finger in the infield dirt of PNC Park, Neil Walker was back doing baseball stuff at Busch Stadium.Very light stuff, mind you, but the Pirates second baseman has at least embarked on the road to recovery and return. "It's a little better than it was (Thursday)," Walker said before the Bucs opened a three-game series against the Cardinals. "Played a little catch and throw, which was good. The swelling is still there -- that will be important in this whole piece, getting the swelling out. "We're experimenting with a little splint with some mobility. Playing catch felt awkward. And I didn't take ground balls; that'll be the next slow step. In the meantime, a lot of icing, and I have some good medication." There is no timetable for Walker's return, but it seems extremely unlikely that he will be able to participate in this set against the Cards, who opened the series one game behind the second-place Pirates in the National League Central standings. "He's very limited. We're figuring out what he's capable of doing," Bucs manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's been very aggressive with his efforts to figure out what he can, and can't, do." "It's a very small sample size," Walker said of his Friday workout, "but based on the last 48 hours to today, I'm pretty encouraged. I should get pretty quickly to doing what I need to do to get back." Jordy Mercer again started at second base on Friday, teaming with shortstop Clint Barmes in the temporary double-play combination.
"Fantastic? We're not done yet, but 'fantastic' has yet to be determined. We're just trying to be 'good' right now."
-- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, in response to an interviewer prefacing a question with "Now that you've had a fantastic season."
Starling Marte has been in the Major Leagues for only three weeks, but he is all ready a certified "silver slugger." The young outfielder received a silver-coated commemorative bat from Dinger Bats inscripted with the details of his first-pitch homer on July 26 in Houston. Through 46 games, the Pirates hit 35 home runs -- none with more than one man on base. Since, they have clocked 27 three-run or Grand Slam homers, five more than any other team in the Majors, entering Friday's action.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.