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).

Felix Hernandez will miss 3-4 weeks with shoulder bursitis

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Mariners’ right-hander Felix Hernandez is looking at a 3-4 week recovery period, the team announced on Friday. Hernandez has been officially diagnosed with bursitis in his right shoulder after getting pulled from his last start against the Tigers on Tuesday.

It’s not the first shoulder issue the 31-year-old righty has dealt with during his career. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times notes that Hernandez was previously diagnosed with bursitis during a minor league stint in 2005, several weeks prior to making his major league start for Seattle. This time around, however, the injury is coupled with a few years of not-so-sharp stuff, waning velocity and career-low numbers, and while it’s certainly not a worst-case diagnosis, it seems like greater cause for concern.

Without Felix, the Mariners will keep rolling with James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ariel Miranda, Yovani Gallardo and Chase De Jong in their rotation. They’ll also keep Ben Gamel in right field, with starting right fielder Mitch Haniger expected to miss 3-4 weeks after sustaining a Grade 2 strain in his right oblique on Tuesday.

Rays acquire RHP Drew Smith from Tigers

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The Rays acquired minor league reliever Drew Smith from the Tigers on Friday, per a team announcement. The move will close the loop on the trade the two teams began in January for backup outfielder Mikie Mahtook.

Smith, 23, pitched his first full season in Single-A West Michigan in 2016, turning in a 2.96 ERA, 4.3 BB/9 and 11.5 SO/9 in 48 2/3 innings. The right-hander is still several levels away from making any impact on the Rays’ major league roster, but appears to be progressing steadily in two seasons of pro ball and has delivered two runs, four walks and 12 strikeouts in his first 11 2/3 innings at High-A Lakeland this season. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that he’ll be reassigned to the Rays’ High-A Charlotte this week.