MIL@PIT: Walker lays out to take away a hit

PITTSBURGH -- Neil Walker missed 15 days after losing his appendix -- without losing his place in the offensive leader board among National League second basemen.

Walker still leads NL second sackers with 11 home runs entering Friday, and his 36 RBIs rank third behind Arizona's Aaron Hill (40) and the Phillies' Chase Utley (37), who leapfrogged him with a walk-off two-run homer on Thursday night.

With less than a week remaining before polls close on July 3, Walker is also second to Utley in All-Star votes by a large margin. And that's precisely where his manager would like to see Walker during the All-Star Game, as Utley's second.

"It looks like Utley's a lock, and deservedly so," Clint Hurdle said. "After that, you're gonna need another [second baseman], and Neil should most definitely be [considered]."

Fans can continue to cast their votes for starters at MLB.com -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday, July 3, at 11:59 p.m. ET. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15 on FOX.

Bucs address but won't ban headfirst slides

PIT@TB: Marte caught stealing, leaves game in a daze

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates outfielder Starling Marte had to stagger off the Tropicana Field turf on Tuesday night after sliding into second base and leading with his head into Sean Rodriguez's left knee.

Neither Andrew McCutchen nor Gregory Polanco had to make such a harrowing exit from Wrigley Field last weekend. However, both also got dinged on headfirst slides into second base.

On Saturday, McCutchen needed a couple of minutes to regroup after getting tagged on the head. The next day, Darwin Barney stepped on Polanco's hand and, for good measure, also landed atop his shoulder.

Should Major League teams use their heads in this situation … and try to curb headfirst slides?

Perhaps sensible in theory, but …

"When you're that guy, it's hard to be realistic about doing away with something like that," Bucs skipper Clint Hurdle said. "You can make suggestions, especially after an injury. It's something we address frequently.

"I don't want to take away the backyard mentality of trying to make a play the best way they feel they can make it.

Marte nearing return, and could play center

PIT@TB: Marte singles the other way to plate Alvarez

PITTSBURGH -- Starling Marte (jammed right middle finger) improved enough to be available off Pirates manager Clint Hurdle's bench on Friday and is close to resuming regular play -- and when he returns to the starting lineup, it could be in center field.

Andrew McCutchen will sit either before or after Monday's off-day in order to get two days of rest. Marte will then move in the middle, with Josh Harrison manning left field.

McCutchen and Gregory Polanco, who hasn't missed an inning since his June 10 promotion, are both in line for a break.

But the first to be given a day off was Harrison, who was a healthy lineup omission Friday night for the first time since becoming a revolving regular on May 18 (he missed two games earlier this month with a twisted ankle).

"We're going to be on a little bit of a rotation," Hurdle said, "giving another outfielder or two a day or two off. So it's a rest day for [Harrison] now."

Travis Snider started in left field, with right-hander Jacob deGrom going for the Mets. Snider was 7-for-12 in his previous four starts.

First number, last word

216: Strikeouts by newest Pirates reliever Ernesto Frieri since May 3, 2012 -- when he was acquired by the Angels -- second most among American League relievers (Greg Holland, 238).

"You look at all the different options. Part of it is performance. Part of it is asset allocation -- what that means, the player has options." -- Hurdle, on deciding which current starting pitcher has to make way for Gerrit Cole's return on Saturday. Brandon Cumpton and Jeff Locke have options, Vance Worley does not.

Worth noting

• After he throws another bullpen on Sunday, lefty Francisco Liriano [strained left oblique] could advance to pitching a simulated game in mid-week. However his recovery progresses, Liriano, on the DL since June 11, will most likely need a Minor League rehab stint before his return.

"With the time he's been down, that's probably how we'll be best served," Hurdle said.

• Having appeared in four of the previous six games, southpaw Tony Watson was not available out of the Bucs' bullpen on Friday night.

Gregory Polanco produced the Pirates' first four-RBI game from the leadoff spot on Thursday night since June 4, 1986, when Barry Bonds went 4-for-5 with four RBIs in his seventh career game.