Pirates try former first-round pick Neil Walker

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neil walker fielding.jpgPoor Steve Pearce. The 27-year-old first baseman had seemingly rebounded from his very disappointing 2009 and was getting a shot at first base for the Pirates, at least on a part-time basis. However, he suffered a sprained ankle while making his ninth start Monday, requiring a DL trip.
That’s opened the door for 2004 first-round pick Neil Walker. Walker, a converted catcher, has occasionally looked like a legitimate third base prospect through the years, but he was forced into a utility role in Triple-A this year by Pedro Alvarez.
The Pirates had him play 21 games at second, 14 in left field, seven at first and one at third base before calling him up Tuesday. Fortunately, all of the moving around hadn’t taken a toll on his offense. He was hitting .321/.392/.560 with six homers in 189 at-bats. That’s a vast improvement on his 694 and 791 OPSs from his first two years in Triple-A. He’s also already matched his career high with 10 steals.
One interesting about Walker’s splits is that the switch-hitter was hitting a remarkable .385/.445/.664 in 122 at-bats against righties, as opposed to just .152/.250/.283 against lefties. It’s not going to make much sense to platoon him with the left-handed-hitting Jeff Clement at first base. However, he probably deserves some of the at-bats that have been going to Ryan Church and Andy LaRoche.
The Pirates might as well give him a lengthy trial. He’s far from a sure thing, but he’s always had some upside, and while guys like Clement, LaRoche and Lastings Milledge shouldn’t be given up on, there’s only one player in their whole lineup right now who is a sure bet to still be on the club at this time next year (Andrew McCutchen).

A.J. Hinch: “We’ll use every pitcher in Game 7 if we have to”

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It’s not entirely clear why the Astros threw Ken Giles into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS. With a six-run advantage and the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup due up, pushing the series to its seven-game capacity looked like a sure bet. Giles may be one of Houston’s better bullpen arms, but he’s not their only option, and it would have made more sense to keep him fresh for a do-or-die Game 7 on Saturday night.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to postseason baseball. That’s more or less what Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch had to say after the game, telling reporters that he had envisioned a quick three outs from his closer as they tried to pull back from the brink of elimination. “We didn’t have the luxury of limping into that inning,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen how these guys can explode in these innings.”

It’s not difficult to recall the Yankees’ explosive drive in the eighth inning of Game 4, when they exploited the holes in Houston’s ‘pen and evened the series with Gary Sanchez‘s go-ahead double off of Giles. Back home in Minute Maid Park, however, there was a slightly different feel to the eighth and ninth innings of Game 6. Jose Altuve led off the eighth with a solo home run, followed by Alex Bregman‘s two-run double and Evan Gattis‘ sac fly. In the ninth, Giles labored through a 23-pitch outing to lock down the win, handing out a base hit and a seven-pitch walk before eventually whiffing Chase Headley on three straight pitches for the last out.

So, while Hinch’s decision to lean on Giles in Game 6 may have felt wasteful, his concerns were not entirely unfounded. He’s prepared to roll with the same strategy during Saturday’s series finale, too, leaving nothing on the table as the Astros battle for their first World Series showdown since 2005. According to Dallas Keuchel, that means all hands on deck — except for Justin Verlander, whose four wins, 24 strikeouts and 1.46 postseason ERA have gotten the Astros as far as he could possibly be expected to take them. “No pitcher is going to be in the dugout,” said Keuchel. “They’re all going to be in the bullpen, myself included. Any way we can help out, we’re trying to get to the World Series, the same way the Yankees are, and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Does that mean Giles will be available for a Game 7 appearance? Stranger things have happened. Joe Sheehan notes that the right-hander has pitched in back-to-back days 13 times this year, though he’s never thrown as many as 23 pitches on Day 1. Granted, he likely doesn’t have enough left in the tank for another 20+ pitch run on Saturday, but with the World Series on the line, any help he can offer will be invaluable.