Catcher Russell Martin returned to the Pirates' lineup Tuesday night after missing six of the past seven games because of neck stiffness and might provide an antidote to the steal-happy Milwaukee Brewers.

Martin's neck stiffened after the weekend series against the Washington Nationals that concluded May 5. He returned Thursday in New York against the Mets, but said he did not feel back to normal.

"I want to be out there just because I enjoy playing, but I also wanted to be out there healthy for the team," Martin said. "I felt good [Monday]. They kind of gave me an extra day yesterday just to make sure I was ready today and I feel great."

The Pirates carried only one other catcher, Michael McKenry, during Martin's absence. John McDonald or Brandon Inge would have been the emergency catcher if McKenry had to leave a game because Martin, manager Clint Hurdle said, was unequivocally not ready to play.

"I don't think it's something he's jumping to do, but, if a body drops, I think Brandon will walk down, say, 'Give me the stuff, and I'll do this,' " Hurdle said. "Johnny's been working in practice to be ready to do it."

Martin hit, threw, ran and squatted, he and Hurdle said, to ensure his neck had progressed enough for him to play. He said he still had limited range of motion but no soreness.

"You can play through some soreness, but, when it's your neck and you're playing a position where there can be contact and stuff like that, you want your neck to feel like it can support your head," Martin said. "I got a big head.

"I felt like I was ready to play [Monday], and they just felt because of pretty much how I said I was ready last time and I ended up not being ready, they just gave me an extra day."

Martin returned before the final three games against the Brewers, who entered the game Tuesday with more stolen bases than any team in baseball and stole six against the Pirates Monday night. Martin had thrown out 8 of 23 potential base-stealers entering Monday. McKenry had thrown out 1 of 24.

"We had some shots to throw people out yesterday and we weren't able to convert on the back end of it," Hurdle said. "I thought A.J. [Burnett] gave it everything he had. Unfortunately, we weren't able to show up. [McKenry] wasn't able to make the proper adjustments on his end last night."