Neil Walker batting
Neil Walker could be back in the Pirates’ lineup by Sunday. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pirates second baseman Neil Walker will begin his rehab assignment Thursday at Double-A Altoona. Walker will play two games in Altoona, according to 93.7 The Fan’s Dan Zangrilli, starting with Thursday night’s game against the Richmond Flying Squirrels at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Walker could be back on the Pirates’ roster as early as Sunday in New York, per Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He injured his right hand on April 26 sliding into second base and had to get six stitches after Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma accidentally spiked him. Walker was originally day-to-day, but the Pirates placed him on the 15-day disabled list Friday and recalled infielder Jordy Mercer.

“I feel like I’m pretty close back to 100 percent as far as the hand goes,” Walker told Sawchik.

After Walker’s injury, Brandon Inge started five straight games at second base, but Mercer has started the last three games since his promotion and is in tonight’s lineup at second base. If the Pirates want to keep Mercer on the roster (3-for-12 with a home run since his promotion after hitting .333 with an .852 OPS in Triple-A), it could spell the end for veteran John McDonald. The 38-year-old infielder is hitting 2-for-26 on the season after posting a .681 OPS last year for Arizona. McDonald was brought in largely for his defense and experience, and has made seven starts at shortstop, but could be obsolete if the Pirates feel Mercer can share the starting job with Clint Barmes.

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