Pirates catcher Cervelli looks to build on busy season

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, 5:24 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Never before in his career was Francisco Cervelli as tired and achy as he was at the end of last season.

Cervelli was behind the plate for a career-high 128 games, three times as many games as he caught in 2014. His body attracted foul tips like a magnet, yet he stayed healthy — albeit bruised.

After the Pirates lost the National League wild-card game, Cervelli went home and took a month off to recuperate.

“After that, I was still in pain,” Cervelli said with a grin.

Don't expect Cervelli to whine about it, though.

“That was my first time catching a lot (and) I really like it,” he said. “I don't complain when I get hit. It's part of the catcher's job. I've been getting hit for a long time. Now, I get hit more because I'm catching more. If I'm able to stand up and keep playing, I'm happy.”

Staying off the disabled list has been a challenge for Cervelli. From 2011-14, he played in 112 games.

Before Cervelli made his big league debut in 2008, he had to recover from a broken wrist suffered in a home-plate collision during a spring training game. In 2013, he had a solid April with the New York Yankees before a foul tip fractured his knuckle. He also has endured concussions, a broken foot and a sore hamstring that put him on the 60-day DL.

The Pirates were unsure how much they would get from Cervelli last season after they acquired him for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson. Cervelli batted .295 — the fourth-best average among big league catchers — with a .771 OPS and 43 RBIs.

“Growth all over the place,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “A very, very good year for a guy who put in a lot of hard work and took advantage of the first opportunity for a good volume of playing time.”

Cervelli is one of the more vocal and animated catchers in the majors. Although he's a “quiet” receiver — pitchers love him for setting a firm, steady target — Cervelli otherwise seems to always be in motion.

“My adrenaline is up all the time I play,” he said. “That's my personality.”

Yet, Cervelli actually has toned down his intensity a bit over the past couple of years. That change was reinforced last season, when he watched up close as St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina worked.

“It made me realize when you relax and do things calmly, you've got more time to think, to react and do better things for the pitchers” Cervelli said. “Playing against Molina was a dream because he's been one of my idols.”

Molina also is a model of durability, having appeared in at least 110 games in each of the past 11 seasons. If Cervelli stays healthy again this season, he will set himself up for a terrific pay raise next year and beyond.

This winter, he will be the top catcher on the free agent market. Cervelli said he would consider a contract extension offer from the Pirates, but the two sides are not in any talks.

Cervelli arrived a few days early at spring training so he could get a jump start on getting acquainted with newcomers Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong. Getting a new contract seems to be one of the last things on his mind.

“I'll always want to get better,” Cervelli said. “I want to win a Gold Glove. I believe if those things happen, the team is going to be better.”

Notes: There was batting practice on all four fields Tuesday during the first full-squad workout. Jung Ho Kang, who is on the mend from leg surgery, was in the cage watching pitches but did not swing. “Any situation that calls for quick violent movement, we're holding off of right now,” Hurdle said. … Every pitcher except Gerrit Cole (rib inflammation) and reliever Cory Luebke (hamstring) threw live BP. … Non-roster invitee Cole Figueroa hit in a group with Jake Goebbert and Jason Rogers, who both are on the 40-man roster. “Cole's earned the opportunity for us to give him that look. We'll see where he goes with it,” Hurdle said, adding he likes Figueroa's scrappy approach at the plate. Figueroa took a pitch off his finger while bunting but was able to continue. … Owner Bob Nutting watched part of the workout. He will speak at a team meeting Wednesday morning.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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