Pirates notebook: Team banks on Elias Diaz as backup catcher
FORT MYERS, Fla. — When the 2017 season ended, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told Elias Diaz to prepare to catch a good volume of games.
That was something Diaz had never done at the major league level, but Hurdle believes it probably helped Diaz's mentality to be ready to become the Pirates' backup catcher this season.
What the Pirates didn't know was how long it would take Diaz to overcome the ordeal of his mother being kidnapped in his native Venezuela early last month and be ready to play.
"This isn't an easy road to travel for him, physically, professionally," Hurdle said. "The incredible adversity he faced again this offseason and be able to push through that and everything with his family settled into a good place and be able to come in and play and compete, knowing that he needs to get ready for a major league season for real, I think, helps."
Diaz hit a three-run homer off Anibal Sanchez in a six-run sixth to help the Pirates to a 9-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday before a sellout crowd at Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex.
Diaz batted .223 with one home run and 19 RBIs in 64 games last season.
"The ability to swing the bat has been there," Hurdle said. "He was challenged a bit last year. He's come in and working on some things, got some aggressive swings and got a pitch up and put a beautiful swing on it to drive the ball out of the ballpark. Love the way he went through the succession of blocking pitches back there, as well. It shows what he can do. He's growing. He's getting better."
A hit for Jamo
Pirates starter Jameson Taillon wasn't happy about allowing a pair of doubles to Twins leadoff hitter Brian Dozier.
But Taillon, who allowed two runs on two hits with a walk and a wild pitch in 22⁄3 innings, got payback when he singled to right field in his only at-bat.
"I didn't go up there expecting much, but it's fun," Taillon said. "When you're a kid, you hit, you pitched, you played all the positions, so it's fun for me to get out there and do something to break up the monotony.
"I don't run the bases much because I don't get on base that much, but it was fun to be out there and chat with some of the other guys and be part of a baseball game for a little bit."
Taillon had incentive to hustle down the first-base line, as he didn't want to get thrown out.
"That's what I told (first baseman) Logan Morrison: My first potential big-league hit, I got thrown out at first from right field," Taillon said. "Then my actual first big-league hit was a hit to right, just like that. It's in my head, a fool-me-once, fool-me-twice type thing. I'm not going to make that mistake again."
Brault shines in relief
Steven Brault is competing for a spot on the pitching staff. He just doesn't know whether it will be in the rotation or bullpen.
The left-hander pitched two scoreless innings against the Twins in middle relief but hasn't been ruled out as a starter yet.
"He understands completely that his job is to get ready to pitch," Hurdle said. "We'll figure it out as things develop. The landscape might be more clear for him. But when you go out and pitch like that, you put yourself in a good position."
Hurdle said Brault is working on his secondary pitches, including a changeup to right-handers, fastball command and controlling the basepaths.
"He's still learning," Hurdle said. "He had a fantastic season last year at Triple-A, and there's things that he can still pick up on, areas to go read swings.
"Dependence on the catcher right now is critical for him because he doesn't have a lot of major league experience, but I think he's got that ability to read some swings and have a good feel for things."
Hurdle has an idea of who will pitch on opening day and in the home opener for the Pirates, but he's not tipping his hand.
"We just haven't told you guys yet. We haven't told them yet, either, but we pretty much know," Hurdle said. "It's a matter of when we want to tell them. We want to make sure there's no hiccups in the rotation so when we line these guys up, you start backlogging who's going to pitch the opener in Detroit and who's going to pitch the home opener."
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.