PITTSBURGH -- Manager Clint Hurdle acknowledged before the start of the Pirates' last homestand that, while important, breaking a 19-season streak of losing seasons has not been the team's lone September focus.Some lineup and pitching staff decisions have been made with an eye on 2013, in consultation both with his aides and with general manager Neal Huntington. "Up front, we've made sure to field a team that can win the game that night," Hurdle emphasized. "We have talked about personnel from a coaching angle and with Neal -- I got his perspective. "We've tried to keep [the push for .500 and planning for next season] in perspective. The two most significant things have been [Jeff] Locke and [Kyle] McPherson in the rotation. We believe in those guys." The Pirates have lost all seven of the starts made by rookies Locke and McPherson -- part of a 6-19 September that has seriously jeopardized their chances at those elusive 82 wins.
Herniated disc in back ends Walker's season
PITTSBURGH -- Neil Walker offered a pair of revelations Friday afternoon: He has a herniated disc in his back, and he will not play the rest of the season.The likelihood of the Pirates' second baseman shutting it down has hung in the air for a few days, so confirmation of that decision wasn't unexpected. Full disclosure of his diagnosis, however, was news. Since Walker was first shelved on Aug. 27, his condition was generally described as "lower back tightness." Walker has been reassured surgery will not be necessary. "All the specialists have seen all the MRIs, and none of them thought it was at that level," Walker said. "They all said that as long as I'm taking care of myself, nothing more is going to happen. I have to put my focus this offseason on making sure everything is in the right place." Shutting it down now, with six games to go, gives Walker a jump on that agenda. Rejoining the starting lineup on Sept. 15 and playing on-and-off since hasn't accomplished anything he'd hoped for, such as helping the team end its skid. "My goal was to help the team as much as I could," said Walker, who had started six of 13 games since his return. "People probably raised their eyebrows when I would play one day and not play for a few days. "Rest is the biggest thing for this situation. So I won't play the rest of the season. I'm shut down. That's where we're at." Walker ends his season batting .280, with a career-high 14 homers and 69 RBIs. However, he had 65 of those RBIs by Aug. 8. Eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this offseason, Walker did not know how his injury might affect possible talks about a long-term contract. "If they want to try to use it, they can," he said. "Regardless, my focus is on the arbitration process. I'm open to talks this offseason. When the season starts, my focus is on that, but if they want to talk in Spring Training or after the season, I'm open to that."
Manager Clint Hurdle left himself a little wriggle room -- "That's where we stand right now." -- but said plans are for Bucs to ride out the rotation. That means Kyle McPherson, Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Locke, Kevin Correia and A.J. Burnett all get one more start. Sam LeCure, a third-year right-hander with the Reds, entering Friday night's game had yet to allow a hit to any of the Pirates, who were a collective 0-for-25 lifetime off him. That blew Hurdle's mind: "I've never had a guy this late in the season that we've seen a number of times and not have a hit off."
As part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Roberto Clemente's 3,000th career hit on Sunday, Clemente family members and former teammate Steve Blass will participate in a pregame ceremony. It will also be the Pirates' annual Fan Appreciation Day.
"I feel very entwined to this city and to this team. I don't want this portrayed as me quitting on this team. My goal was to come back and help as much as I could. But when I came back, I knew I wasn't even 85 percent. Rest is the biggest thing for this type of injury."
-- Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, on his decision to sit out the rest of the season with a herniated disc in his back
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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.