PITTSBURGH -- As do most teams, the Pirates usually celebrate and depend on the contributions of all 25 men. However, it's not possible to ignore the fact that their current slide has coincided with the absences of two regulars. Since Starling Marte was shelved by a strain of his right oblique muscle, the Bucs are 4-10 entering Tuesday night's game. That includes a 2-5 skid since second baseman Neil Walker also went down with lower-back tightness on Aug. 27. Have the Pirates -- 66-54 and holding down the second National League Wild Card spot when Marte went out -- missed that duo more than they could have imagined?
"I felt it would be a challenge to play without them," manager Clint Hurdle admitted. "Marte was showing you things you want to see -- defensively, offensively -- and I would've liked to have seen him continue to play through. And Walker ... he does what he does." They both near returns. Marte jumped into the rehab portion of his recovery Tuesday night, batting leadoff with State College. Walker continued to work out at PNC Park, with hopes of his weekend comeback still in play. "Every team is losing guys," Hurdle said. "We see it all over the place. Then you go to your depth and see how you respond there." Walker's loss has been particularly hard to take, because he has been restless in the clubhouse. "It will help when the healthy Walker shows up, not the one that's ornery because he can't play," said Hurdle, grinning. "This has been more challenging for him than for anyone else. A kid being from here, to get to this point of the season and where we are and being unplugged. Missing has been hard for him."