PITTSBURGH -- Francisco Liriano checked into the Pirates' clubhouse Tuesday afternoon, riding one of his best five-start stretches in recent years.
Now he just hopes he can transition the ride from the Minor Leagues to the Majors, from rehab starts to meaningful starts.
"I'm very happy with the way everything is going, and I'm happy to be here, to get another chance to compete," Liriano said.
While regaining competitive shape from a Christmas-time fracture of his right arm, the left-hander gradually moved up the Bucs' Minor League chain, Class A through Triple-A. In those five starts and 21 2/3 innings, he fashioned a 2-1 record and 4.15 ERA.
Most impressively, he had 33 strikeouts to four walks. Eye-catching, for someone who totaled 162 walks the last two seasons in 291 innings.
Crediting the new, overhand delivery he has adopted, Liriano said, "My command with the fastball was very good. Last year, I had trouble locating my fastball. Now it's a lot better, I'm throwing it in and out."
The healed right arm has become an afterthought when it comes to the required agility to field his position or handle a bat, Liriano said.
"Sometimes I even forget I broke my arm," he said. "It doesn't bother me at all, not sore or anything. It feels very normal, so I'm ready to go."
Liriano is scheduled to make his Pirates debut on Saturday, going in the third game of the four-game series with the Mets in New York.
Walker to start rehab games on Thursday
PITTSBURGH -- Neil Walker's lacerated right hand continues to near game-playing shape, and the second baseman is on target to rejoin the Pirates when he is eligible to be activated off the disabled list, or the day after.
Walker will work out at PNC Park once again on Wednesday, then join Double-A Altoona on Thursday for the first of two rehab games.
"Then we'll reassess: Does he need more [rehab] games, or will he meet us in New York?" Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Walker becomes eligible to come off the DL on May 12, when the Bucs will play the last game of a four-game weekend series against the Mets in Citi Field. The following night, they will be back in Pittsburgh for the start of a 10-game homestand.
"He'll either meet us when we get back from New York, or meet us there [for Sunday's game]," Hurdle said.
Since Walker suffered his injury late in the April 26 game in St. Louis, Brandon Inge and Jordy Mercer have alternated at second base. The pair has gone a combined 9-for-34 (.265) in Walker's place, and hit safely in each of the eight games prior to Tuesday night's 4-1 loss.
• Starling Marte's start at the top of the Pirates' lineup is of historic proportions. Marte has reached base in 29 of the Bucs' first 32 games -- including Tuesday night -- the best getaway by the club's leadoff hitter since Lloyd Waner had a 30 of 32 stretch in 1931.
Marte has a ways to go to keep up: Little Poison pushed it to 40 of 42 before cooling off.
• Jose Tabata (left hamstring) was an option off the bench Tuesday night after an afternoon running drill that impressed Clint Hurdle, but he never entered the game.
"If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I might not as optimistic," the Pirates manager said. "He showed some running strength. This is a completely different injury than he's had [to his left leg] before, and nowhere near as severe."
First number, last word
104: Strikeouts by Pirates relievers, entering Tuesday's action, second most in the National League to the Arizona's 105.
"That's the hardest I've ever hit a ball in my career." -- Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes, reflecting on his two-run homer to left-center off Washington's Stephen Strasburg on Saturday.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.