Pirates notebook: New catcher Cervelli eager to bond with staff

Rob Biertempfel
| Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, 7:54 p.m.

Francisco Cervelli was not surprised when the New York Yankees traded him to the Pirates last month.

Cervelli, 28, made his big league debut with the Yankees in 2008. Although he often was hailed as their catcher of the future, he played in only 250 games over seven seasons.

As last season came to an end, Cervelli reckoned his time with the Yankees was over too.

“I was getting prepared for something,” Cervelli said. “It's not easy when you're traded. You're going to a new team, where you've got to show everything you've got again.”

As he settles in with the Pirates, Cervelli's first task is to learn everything he can about the pitching staff.

“They've got to be my best friends,” Cervelli said. “When I was with the Yankees, my pitchers were everything. I'd talk to them during (batting practice), trying to know a little bit about each guy's personality.

“I'll watch videos. I'll do my homework. But I think the most important thing is the mental part, just making them feel comfortable throwing to me.”

Morton on the mend

With his recovery from hip surgery proceeding well, right-hander Charlie Morton expects to be in the Pirates' starting rotation on Opening Day.

“Absolutely,” Morton said. “At this point, I don't see why not. When I get on the mound (in spring training), that will give me a great indicator of where I am.”

Morton, 31, made only 26 starts last season because of a sports hernia. He had surgery in September to repair a torn labrum in his right hip.

Morton resumed his normal throwing program Dec. 1. During last week's winter caravan, Morton worked out with Jameson Taillon on the Pitt campus. Morton threw from 120 feet on consecutive days.

“Everything's good,” Morton said. “My arm feels great, my hip feels great. Now, it's about increasing my workload. The biggest challenge is going to be throwing off the mound, just because of the increased angle.”

Morton said he might try to throw a bullpen session a few days earlier than usual in order to ease into his spring training routine.

Big bucks and funny money

When asked for his reaction to Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million extension, president Frank Coonelly chuckled and said, “It seems like Monopoly money, doesn't it?”

Coonelly then got off his stool on the stage and stepped toward the crowd. He talked about an exchange he had with Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson during the recent owner's meetings.

“They thought it was a great deal,” Coonelly said. “I just couldn't get my head around the $325 million. They said to me, ‘You don't understand. (Stanton) has an out clause after six years. Those first six years are only going to cost $107 million. After that, he'll leave and play for somebody else. So, it's not really $325 million.' “

The implication from Coonelly is that the Marlins signed Stanton to a record-setting deal with the expectation that he will bolt when it's only halfway complete.

Liz in pitching mix

After a three-week delay, the Pirates on Friday finalized a one-year, $1 million contract with right-hander Radhames Liz.

Liz's winter ball team, Estrellas de Oriente, reported on its website Nov. 21 that he had agreed to a two-year, $3 million deal with the Pirates. However, questions raised during his physical exam led to a revised, lesser contract.

A hard thrower with erratic control, Liz, 31, pitched in Korea from 2011-13 after making his last big league outing in 2009. This year, he battled knee problems which held him to 12 starts in the Toronto Blue Jays' minor league system.

During his stint with Estrellas de Orient, Liz went 4-0 with a 1.90 ERA and his fastball reached the mid-90s mph. In 23 23 innings, he issued five walks and struck out 29.

Once rated a top-100 prospect by Baseball America, Liz made 21 starts for the Baltimore Orioles from 2007-09. Although his fastball has touched 98 mph, Liz didn't fool many big league batters — he went 6-8 with a 7.50 ERA and a 1.86 WHIP.

MLB Network Radio analyst Jim Duquette was the Orioles vice president of baseball operations while Liz was with that organization. Duquette said the Pirates might be able to turn around Liz's career.

“Liz had some anxiety issues at the major league level ... and that kept him from being effective,” Duquette said. “Now, he's a little bit older and a little more experienced. The Pirates signed him as a starter, but I think he'll end up being better in the bullpen in very short spurts.”

Around the horn

The Pirates unveiled a camouflage alternate jersey, which they'll wear on Thursday home games next season. The jersey features a brown digital camouflage patter with black “Pirates” lettering and numbers outlined in gold. ... Manager Clint Hurdle said catcher Tony Sanchez will continue to work out at first base and could be a bench option in 2015. Sanchez recently was sent home by his team in the Dominican Winter League because of poor play. ... One of the best quotes during the Q & A session with management came from general manager Neal Huntington: “My family (is) my rock. They love me whether we win or lose, most of the time.” ... Some of the loudest applause at PirateFest went to A.J. Burnett, who rejoined the team after pitching for the Phillies in 2014. “I've heard about 900,000 ‘Welcome backs' so far, and not one of them got old,” Burnett said with a smile.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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