CINCINNATI -- Pirates second baseman Neil Walker began the last step in his return from right side soreness on Friday, when he started a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis.
Manager Clint Hurdle said there's a very specific plan for Walker, who went on the 15-day disabled list on July 9, retroactive to July 7. On Friday, Walker was scheduled to play five innings and get two or three at-bats. Assuming all went well Friday night, Hurdle said Walker would then play seven innings Saturday and a full nine innings on Sunday.
"We'll evaluate after that," Hurdle said.
Walker is eligible to come off the DL on Monday, and the Pirates hope he'll be able to join them when they begin a four-game road series against the Nationals that same day.
Currently at the tail end of his second DL stint this season, having previously missed 14 games in late April and early May after getting his right index finger cut by a spike, Walker owns a .244/.347/.384 slash line in 72 games. Jordy Mercer and Brandon Inge have manned second base with Walker out of the lineup, going a combined 4-for-30 (.133) entering Friday.
Grilli first Pirate to grace SI cover since 1992
CINCINNATI -- Just over 35 years ago, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle -- then a player with Kansas City -- graced the March 3, 1978 cover of Sports Illustrated. Now, he and Jason Grilli have a little more in common, as the Pittsburgh closer is featured nationally on the most recent cover of the iconic magazine.
Earlier this week, Hurdle received messages regarding the newest issue of Sports Illustrated, which includes a story on the Pirates and their chances of making the postseason for the first time in 21 years, but without realizing Grilli was the cover subject, he didn't think much of the news.
"But I was in the airport yesterday, and I went to buy a book and obviously saw the SI cover. It was almost along the lines of when I saw my face on the SI cover, the same situation. Like, 'Wow, OK. That's cool,'" Hurdle said. "There's no advice, there's no jinx. I don't believe in it. There's plenty of people that have been on that cover that have gone on to do wonderful things."
Grilli certainly is deserving of the honor, considering he started play after the All-Star break with a National League-leading 29 saves in 30 opportunities. However, Hurdle counted it as more of a team accomplishment, as the Pirates' 56 wins heading into the break were the most since the club started 57-31 on the way to winning the 1971 World Series.
"I think it's really cool," Hurdle said. "Just more tangible evidence of what's going on here as a team. We have one individual's picture, [but] you read and dig in the article and I think it's about all of us, particularly the 'Shark Tank' [the nickname for the Pirates' bullpen] and the renaissance going on in Pittsburgh."
The cover also helps Pittsburgh reach one of its goals for the season. In Spring Training, Hurdle mentioned to his players that the photos commemorating the Pirates' history at their facility in Bradenton, Fla., and the team's cafeteria at PNC Park were mostly in black and white because they were so old. Hurdle then set a goal to "put some color on the walls."
"This SI cover is color," Hurdle said of the first Sports Illustrated cover to feature the Pirates since Barry Bonds was on the front of the magazine in May 1992. "And that SI cover I'm sure will find its way into the cafeteria, and it's just another mile marker on the road and the journey that we're on."
• After being scratched from his scheduled start last Sunday and missing out on a chance to play in the All-Star Game because of lower back tightness, left-handed pitcher Jeff Locke has been inserted back into the rotation and is expected to make his 19th start of the season on Sunday against the Reds.
• The Pirates' July 31 matchup with the Cardinals will be nationally broadcast by ESPN, though Root Sports will still televise the game locally. First pitch, also broadcast on MLB.TV, is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.