Walker improving, but not ready to return

Walker improving, but not ready to return

PITTSBURGH -- As a person, Neil Walker is feeling good. And as anyone ever waylaid by back pain can attest, that's a major welcome step.

"I'm not bothered doing daily activities, like tying my shoes and stuff," Walker said.

As a baseball player -- not so great.

"The last couple of days, we pushed the envelope a little more, in terms of throwing and moving laterally, so [we'll] see how far we can go," said Walker, who on Wednesday missed his ninth straight game since getting flattened by lower-back tightness. "My body had responded very well, but when you start torquing ... I don't want to go out and take a cut at a 95-mile-per-hour fastball when I'm not ready."

Even taking some indoor swings at 75-mile-per-hour pitches has forced Walker to take a step back. He began taking grounders Wednesday afternoon, but stayed away from bat work. So his return for this weekend's PNC Park series against the Cubs is very much in doubt.

"We're on the outside looking in on that," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He tried swinging the bat once and had to back away."

"The next step will come soon," Walker said, meaning picking a bat back up. "I don't think it will take me too long to get back in the swing of things."

While calling on the patience to refrain from rushing back, Walker is reassured by expert opinions that there are no hidden dangers concerning a possible relapse.

"I've talked to back specialists about whether there's the risk of coming back too early, and it was very encouraging for me to hear that as long as the inflammation is out of there and I feel right, I'm good to go," Walker said.