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Pregame: Neil Walker and Gerrit Cole updates

Justin K. Aller

Walker update

Neil Walker was removed from the last night's game with back tightness. He is not in the starting lineup tonight.

"Based on the way he responded last night that there was some tightening up, we thought we'd go another full day of treatment," Clint Hurdle said. "[He saw the] doctors and the evaluations came back that everything was in a good place ... we'll see if he is a usable player off the bench."

Hurdle was unsure if Walker would participate in batting practice when he met with the media. As I write this, the Pirates have finished BP and I did not see Walker take the field. This does not mean that he didn't take swings in the batting cage attached to the clubhouse, however.

Cole update

Hurdle said that Gerrit Cole "feels good" and "finished his throwing program today." He went on to describe yesterday's rehab start as a "gear-down" game for the right-hander.

"We gave him a couple goals going in: we wanted him to repeat delivery and maintain arm slot," Hurdle said. "We told him in the bigger picture we needed to put this step in place, this time out. Not to be reactionary to the results we might get. Maintain velocity, consistently."

Overall, Hurdle sounded upbeat about Cole's approach last night and was pleased that he stayed "stubborn with the approach."

Hurdle added that today was a "positive day" and that he will throw a bullpen session tomorrow and then another rehab start will be scheduled. We should know the date of his next start tomorrow.

McCutchen walking around with a bat

Andrew McCutchen spent most of the afternoon wandering around with bat in hand and watching batting practice.

"His purpose out there was like when our pitchers go out there to watch a guy throw his bullpen," Hurdle said. "I think he was just there for support. He's more comfortable with a bat in his hand than standing still."

Third spot in order

Russell Martin will bat in the three hole tonight, as the Pirates begin the process of filling that spot by committee. Hurdle gave some insights into the factors he'll weigh when picking the third hitter on a game-by-game basis.

"You look at a couple different things: batting averages against right-handers, who's had success with runners in scoring position. I don't see the need to lock into one [guy for the batting order position] right now."

Watch home plate umpire Bill Miller's strike zone tonight

Jeff Locke has been roughed up his last two starts (12 innings pitched, 19 hits, five home runs and 7.50 ERA). Hurdle pointed to "some sequences where the ball has gotten elevated" as a partial explanation. Interestingly, he also mentioned the importance of Locke having a friendly strike zone, as he doesn't have overpowering stuff and relies more on location.

"Sometimes, and it's not an excuse, you can also get different strikes zone with which to work, based on the home plate umpire," Hurdle said. "No disrespect to anybody, but they're not all the same. In reality, sometimes there can be a two-inch, three-inch margin one way or the other that can play differently for different guys. You've got to be able to make adjustments. That's probably what's complicated things for him the last few starts."