PIT@MIA: Polanco collects five hits, first MLB homer

PITTSBURGH -- Before Gregory Polanco left town, he had clipped a base hit in each of his first three Major League games. However, as he returned from a destructive weekend in Miami, it seemed fair to issue an alert to PNC Park fans:

"You ain't seen nothing yet."

Polanco again took his position in front of The Clemente Wall on Tuesday, having also hit his way into Roberto Clemente territory. A 9-for-17 series against the Marlins made Polanco the first Pittsburgh player to begin his career with a six-game hitting streak since The Great One, in 1955.

"Yes, I was told about that. That makes me very proud," said Polanco, who, gradually and predictably, is getting rid of the training wheels and playing with more abandon.

"I'm getting more confident and after a few games like [the ones in Miami], I feel less pressure," the 22-year-old said.

Polanco was definitely not speaking for opposition defensive players. At his height (6-foot-4), Polanco does not look fast. When his long legs take those long strides, he is a blur, as infielders will quickly learn. Marlins second baseman Rafael Furcal was forced to be a quick study, being on the gasping end of two of Polanco's three infield hits in that series.

"I know he got Furcal's attention," manager Clint Hurdle said. "There were plays he laid out [to make diving stops in the hole] on Polanco, and everybody but Polanco is out."

The only negative of Polanco's return to Pittsburgh is that he had to again separate from his mom, who has returned to the Dominican Republic after surprising him in Miami. They will soon reunite -- Polanco said that once he is settled in an apartment here, his mom will come and live with him.

Restless Walker eager to get back on the field

CHC@PIT: Walker wipes rain off the dugout camera

PITTSBURGH -- Neil Walker still has seven days to go before he's eligible to come off the disabled list. It could be the longest week of the season for … Clint Hurdle.

"He's living up to that 'Dennis The Menace' nickname I dropped on him five minutes after I met him," the Pirates' manager said of Walker, who, eight days after being sidelined by an appendectomy, is becoming active and restless.

"I'm gonna go crazy in the dugout. I'm gonna take batting practice and grounders," Walker said early Tuesday afternoon in PNC Park. "Not that it's gonna do any good. I've got to wait the full 15 days [DL time]."

In addition to expanding his pregame workout, Walker was set to play his own "simulated game."

"He's gonna simulate being an extra man, he'll go up in the [indoor batting] cage and hit off the machine, with velocity and spin," Hurdle said. "The more he [yaps], the healthier he's getting. He came up here [into my office] twice today, which never happens when he's healthy."

Prior to arriving at the yard, Walker paid a visit to the doctor who performed the appendectomy, and he received the green light to proceed with accelerating his workouts.

When he does return, Walker conceded that his "oh-oh" moments will come when he tries to slide headfirst or has to dive for a ball on defense. There is no way to anticipate how his tender abdomen will respond.

Worth noting

Gerrit Cole (right shoulder fatigue), progressing well through Sunday's 34-pitch bullpen and some long-range flat-ground catch on Tuesday, is "getting close to getting on the mound to throw 60 pitches," according to Hurdle. Cole's next step has not yet been determined, but a simulated game is likely.

• Left-hander Francisco Liriano (strained left oblique) could begin his rehab with a game of catch on Thursday.

• Two relievers are taking aim at a little-known record set by the Buccos' Bill Landrum in 1989, who posted a first-half ERA of 0.23, the lowest ever for pitchers with at least 30 innings in the books before the All-Star break. Boston's Koji Uehara (0.57 ERA in 31 2/3 innings) and the Giants' Jean Machi (0.29 ERA in 31 innings) are stalking Landrum's mark.

First number, last word

1.76: The Pittsburgh rotation's collective ERA in the last eight games, entering Tuesday night's action. In those games, Pirates starters allowed a total of 10 earned runs, and relievers 15 earned runs.

"When he had the go-away tour in his last year and came into Colorado, we gifted him and I said to him, 'I don't know how good you are, but it's kinda crazy: You've been hot for 18 years.' He thought that was really funny, and we joked about it for years after."
-- Hurdle, on the late Tony Gwynn, "one of the three best pure hitters of my generation."