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Neverauskas finds comfort zone in Pirates organization

| Friday, March 10, 2017, 7:21 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas delivers during the ninth inning against the Rays Friday, March 10, 2017, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas delivers during the ninth inning against the Rays Friday, March 10, 2017, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas delivers during the ninth inning against the Rays Friday, March 10, 2017, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — After some periods of adjustment, Dovydas Neverauskas has found his comfort zone.

In the United States using a non-native language.

And coming out of the bullpen.

One of the few Lithuanians signed by a major league organization, Neverauskas has played for minor-league teams representing seven different American cities in 7½ years. Pittsburgh, perhaps, could be added to the list within the next year or two for one of the newest additions to the Pirates' 40-man roster.

“The guy's getting outs,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He's got the ability to (get) swing and miss. He's got the ability to get weak contact. We used him at a couple different (minor league) levels and he was able to adapt and perform.

“We're impressed with the young man.”

Neverauskas, who earned the win after pitching a perfect ninth inning of the Pirates' 4-1 Grapefruit League victory against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, is striving to become the first Lithuanian born-and-raised player to make it to the major leagues.

His mother played professional basketball, the most popular sport in the former Soviet republic. But his father, also an athlete of some repute, took a liking toward baseball.

Virmidas has served as coach for many of Lithuania's youth national teams.

“He's considered one of the kind of pioneers of baseball (in Lithuania),” Neverauskas said.

“I think my dad got me to realize I can be good and pushed me towards that.“

Blessed with strong genes and size, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Neverauskas continually stood out at the camps and academies Major League Baseball has staged in Europe in its effort to expand the game and unearth hidden talent.

The efforts might have found a good one in Neverauskas, even if it took a move to the bullpen to blossom as a professional in North America. After Neverauskas had 58 mostly mediocre outings over parts of six seasons as a starter, the Pirates saw enough after five poor starts for Class Low-A West Virginia to start the 2015 season.

“They put me in the bullpen,” Neverauskas said, “and I started doing well, and then I kind of went through the system.”

Within 13½ months, Neverauskas zoomed through High-A, Double-A and into Triple-A, the latter promotion coming last June. He was selected for and pitched in the MLB Futures Game last July in San Diego.

“Since I moved to the bullpen, I have been building my confidence back up from being a starter and not doing that well,” Neverauskas said.

This spring, Neverauskas has allowed one run on two hits and no walks in four innings.

“This (spring has been) a good experience for him,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “We've given him some innings he can experience and see how his stuff plays, which it does play at the major-league level.

“He needs to sharpen up the command on some pitches and some stuff. But it's his first spring training, and he's handled it real well. He's handled it diligently. He's definitely absorbed everything that's around him. And he's asking me, ‘When am I going to pitch again? When am I going to pitch again?' ”

Searage laughed. But the mere fact Neverauskas could articulate that so clearly is something he couldn't do when he signed as a teenager in 2009. Hurdle recalled his first encounter with Neverauskas about 18 months later. There wasn't much verbal communicating he could do at that point.

“He could teach an English class now,” Hurdle said, relaying that picking up a foreign language quickly is analogous to the work ethic and commitment needed to develop into a major leaguer.

“He's got a cause, as well. Lithuania. He's pushing to be the first major-league (Lithuanian). He can impact a country. I love the growth and development – not just of the physical pitcher, but the man. He learned English. He asks good questions. He knows the programs.He's going to be fun to watch.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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