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Pregame: Neil Walker makes good progress, past stage of being disabled list candidate

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Unless there is an unexpected setback, Neil Walker is no longer a disabled list candidate.

"I think we're past that stage," Clint Hurdle said. "He has been able to work himself into a good place with the help of the training staff."

Walker is scheduled to participate in full workout today, and could be an option off the bench.

Since Walker's last start on August 5, Pirates second basemen have posted a -27 wRC+ and .258 OPS. Those numbers don't look to improve much, as Michael Martinez will get the start at second and be tasked with taking multiple at bats against Tigers starter Max Scherzer today.

Scherzer has all the hardware

In a marquee pitching matchup, Francisco Liriano will square off against Tigers ace Max Scherzer.

In his last five starts, Liriano has posted a 1.69 ERA, striking out 33 in 32 innings pitched. He's allowed only a .471 OPS during this stretch.

Scherzer is putting together another dominant year. His FIP is under 3.00 (2.87) for the second year in a row, and he his striking out over 10 a game (10.17) for the third straight season. Hurdle said that pitchers who profile like Scherzer typically have a lot of "hardware."

"Elite pitchers are elite for a reason," Hurdle said. "They have multiple pitches they can throw for strikes. So, as the at bat strings out, there's not sitting on one pitch. You have to be ready cover a larger gap in velocity. There's late movement ... He's got everything you need."

Help for bullpen in Indianapolis?

The Pirates bullpen problems outside the core-four of Jared Hughes, Justin Wilson, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon were exposed again last night. In particular, Jeanmar Gomez and Stolmy Pimentel have proven to be weak links in the middle innings. During the last few weeks the Pirates were able to cover their problems because the starters were going deep into games. But they can't continue to count on such consistency, and a team fighting for a pennant shouldn't have 28 percent of its bullpen entrusted only with mop-up duties.

For the season Pimentel and Gomez have pitched a cumulative 85 innings, allowed 92 hits and posted a 4.23 ERA. The decent ERA conceals 50 percent of inherited runners scoring (league average IS% is 28 percent).

Vin Mazzaro is an internal option in Indianapolis, and his 2.01 ERA certainly looks good. But his WHIP is a pedestrian 1.24, and the strikeout-to-walk ratio doesn't impress, 1.75.

Asked today if the club is considering promoting Mazzaro, Hurdle said that the team is evaluating all its options:

"We've talked about the personnel [in Indianapolis]. Not just Vin, but other guys, as well ... We actively look to improve our club every day, but that is one guy we talk about."

Hurdle added that when it comes to promoting players from the minors, the input he gets from Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor and the pitching staff weigh more into the decision-making process than the numbers.

"We can grab all the Triple-A numbers we want, but then you plug guys in up here and it just doesn't matchup. In my opinion, there's never been a bigger gap between minor league competition and major league competition."