Neil Walker out with back injury, not close to contract extension with Pirates

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Neil Walker was a last-minute subtraction from the Pirates’ lineup today because of lower back soreness.

For now the Pirates are saying he’s likely to miss just 2-3 days, but it’ll be something to keep an eye on throughout camp.

Walker played 159 of a possible 162 games last season, but saw his production decline significantly from his rookie campaign, losing 23 points of batting average and 69 points of OPS.

And while the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen finalized a six-year, $51.5 million extension earlier this week, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports that a Walker deal “does not seem imminent” and “a lot of work still needs to be done.”

Walker is under team control through 2016, so there’s no big rush, but if the Pirates have faith in him being a long-term building block the mediocre 2011 season means his price is still reasonable.

Cardinals tab Miles Mikolas for Opening Day start

Miles Mikolas
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The Cardinals have selected right-hander Miles Mikolas as their Opening Day starter, the club revealed Saturday. It’ll mark the first career Opening Day start for Mikolas, who is scheduled to go up against the Brewers when the team hits the road on March 28.

The 29-year-old righty was a strong contender for the 2018 NL Cy Young Award, earning All-Star distinctions and pitching to a career-best 18-4 record with a 2.83 ERA, 1.3 BB/9, 6.5 SO/9, and 4.3 fWAR over 200 2/3 innings. He’s positioned to lead the Cardinals rotation in 2019 as well, with former Opening Day starters Carlos Martínez and Adam Wainwright and some combination of right-handers Jack Flaherty, Michael Wacha, Alex Reyes, and John Gant behind him.

Manager Mike Shildt told reporters that Flaherty, Wacha, Wainwright, and Martínez had all been considered for the honor, but admitted that Opening Day honors were ultimately handed to Mikolas “in recognition of [his performance] last year.” The Cardinals are scheduled to play a four-game set against the Brewers to start the season and will stop over in Pittsburgh for another two games before returning to St. Louis for their opening homestand against the Padres on April 4. Additional pitching assignments have yet to be announced.