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Pirates notebook: Francisco Cervelli bats leadoff for 1st time

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, May 13, 2018, 6:06 p.m.
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli takes a first pitch strike while leading off during the first inning against the Giants Sunday, May 13, 2018, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli takes a first pitch strike while leading off during the first inning against the Giants Sunday, May 13, 2018, at PNC Park.
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli celebrates his double against the Giants Sunday, May 13, 2018, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli celebrates his double against the Giants Sunday, May 13, 2018, at PNC Park.
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli breaks up a double play under the Giants' Kelby Tomlinson during the first inning Sunday, May 13, 2018, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli breaks up a double play under the Giants' Kelby Tomlinson during the first inning Sunday, May 13, 2018, at PNC Park.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle hugs his mom before a game against the Giants on Mother's Day Sunday, May 13, 2018, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle hugs his mom before a game against the Giants on Mother's Day Sunday, May 13, 2018, at PNC Park.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle didn't hesitate when he was asked Sunday morning why he decided to bat catcher Francisco Cervelli in the leadoff spot.

“Inspiration,” he said. “Sometimes, I hope, it strikes.”

When Cervelli led off the bottom of the first inning against the San Francisco Giants, it marked a first for him since he entered the majors in 2008, according to baseballreference.com.

Overall, he led off the first, third and fifth innings with a walk and two strikeouts. He also struck out in the seventh and hit a double with two outs in the ninth.

“I thought about it,” Hurdle said of batting Cervelli at the top of the lineup. “I mentioned it a while ago, and (Sunday) seems like a day where it kind of fit.” It also was a good fit because Adam Frazier was not in the starting lineup.

Cervelli, who usually hits sixth in the order, is batting .305, with 32 hits and 16 walks in 105 at-bats. Before Sunday, he was 12 for 33, with three home runs, six RBIs and a double in the previous 11 games.

On Saturday night, he was walked intentionally for the first time this season.

“He's hitting the ball well,” Hurdle said. “He's probably a guy you don't want to beat you in that situation. It's good to see that his offense has gotten to a very consistent place.

“The health is playing out very well. We're happy for him. Our goal is to keep him on the field throughout the season.”

Cervelli is the fifth Pirates player to bat leadoff this season. Frazier, who usually plays for injured second baseman Josh Harrison, has done it 21 times, followed by Harrison (12), Sean Rodriguez (four) and Max Moroff (two).

Harrison to Altoona

Harrison (broken hand) will begin a rehab assignment Monday in Altoona. He hit off velocity and breaking ball pitching machines this weekend at PNC Park as he entered his fifth week after an injury that initially had a six-week recovery period.

There still is no timetable for his return to the Pirates' lineup.

“How many swings does he need? How many game activities does he need to be able to come back?” General manager Neal Huntington said. “Players always want to come back sooner than, maybe, we think they are ready. How do we avoid that inevitable first week of struggle?”

Never too many

The Pirates are in the odd situation of having four off days in two weeks, but they have six starting pitchers, if you're counting Joe Musgrove (recovering well from a shoulder strain) and Nick Kingham (2-0 in two recent major-league starts).

Musgrove threw 5 23 scoreless, hitless innings, with no walks and 60 strikes among his 79 pitches Saturday for Indianapolis. Huntington reported that Musgrove touched 97 mph and displayed what he termed a “very effective” breaking ball.

“Perfect is a pretty good outing,” Huntington said.

Kingham has been moved from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis to Altoona to keep him lined up for another start in the majors.

So, if Jameson Taillon misses a start, there will be options.

“You need seven, eight, nine starting pitchers,” said Huntington, whose team already has used six. “We're going to need starter nine before too long.”

Careful, Kyle

Pitcher Kyle Crick was traded for Andrew McCutchen in the off-season, and the two players confronted each other in the fifth inning Friday night. McCutchen grounded out.

Huntington engineered the deal, but his only reaction was one of relief. “For Kyle's sake, I just didn't want him to drill Cutch,” he said. “That would have been the worst of all worlds if he lost a fastball and it hit him in the ribs. I'm not sure he would be able to show his face again ever in Pittsburgh.”

Kang update

Infielder Jung Ho Kang remains in Bradenton, going through simulated game settings.

“He's taking a ton of ground balls. The next step will be to get him in an extended spring training game,” Huntington said.

After that, Kang will enter a rehab assignment, “but we're still a ways away from that,” Huntington said.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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