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Walker pinch-hits, could start finale

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Walker pinch-hits, could start finale

PITTSBURGH -- Neil Walker made his first appearance in four days Saturday night -- in a pinch-hitting role -- and he could return to the Pirates' lineup Sunday as the second baseman works through a nagging back that has hampered him in the last week.

Walker came off the bench in the ninth inning of Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Padres and struck out against right-handed closer Joaquin Benoit. The Pittsburgh native has started just once in the Bucs' last seven contests due to back tightness, and even left that game after seven innings. But Walker noted he felt "much better" Saturday and hopes to be penciled in the team's lineup Sunday afternoon in the series finale against San Diego.

"I could have played tonight," Walker said. "But with the day game [Sunday], we figured might as well give it one more night."

Added Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: "I think we have every feeling the swings went well tonight and if he feels good [Sunday], we'll have him back in the lineup."

Walker, 28, is hitting .277 this season with 16 homers and 50 RBIs in 97 games.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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