Pirates notebook: Elias Diaz, Kevin Newman fill holes at catcher, shortstop
The Pittsburgh Pirates have no plans to make permanent changes at shortstop and catcher, but Kevin Newman and Elias Diaz have been welcome replacements for two players struggling at the plate.
With 33-year-old catcher Francisco Cervelli playing only five innings since May 15 because of his .185 batting average and chest contusion, Elias Diaz has responded positively. In what may be a peek at next season — when Cervelli likely will be gone after his contract expires after this season — Diaz started all four games in San Diego last weekend, plus a day game Thursday after a Wednesday night game against the Colorado Rockies. He was 10 for 21 in the six games before Thursday after getting only five hits in his first 37 at-bats.
“He was in a hurry early,” said Clint Hurdle, who was a hitting coach before he became the Pirates manager. “Wasn’t holding his backside. He was out front. He was behind the fastball and ahead of the slow stuff, where most hitters have been at some particular time in their career.”
Then, Diaz started playing regularly and “now he’s holding his ground, ball’s traveling a little bit more, being driven to right field. Seeing some really positive signs.”
At shortstop, Cole Tucker, who’s slashing .163/.212/.275, has been out of the starting lineup the past two games. Meanwhile, Newman is hitting .333, with hits in 13 of his past 16 games. Newman might not be as flashy with the glove or as athletic as Tucker, but Newman hasn’t committed an error since those three in one inning April 8.
“Right now, we’re just trying to patch it together, how we’re best served playing the game,” Hurdle said. “Newman has done some things offensively that Cole Tucker has not done. We need both of them to man that position.”
With a 13-man pitching staff, Hurdle has only four position players on the bench (three depending on the severity of Cervelli’s injury).
Hurdle shed little light on the Pirates’ pitching plans for the weekend series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, other than Joe Musgrove and Chris Archer will start Saturday and Sunday. Friday night is TBA.
“I’ll know about (Friday) and the weekend when we get there,” he said. “Who is our best option to start the game and how we want to put together those nine innings.”
Because top prospect Mitch Keller pitched Tuesday with Triple-A Indianapolis, he might not be an option until Monday’s doubleheader in Cincinnati.
162 for Bell?
Josh Bell is the only Pirates player to appear in all 47 games, but Hurdle isn’t surprised with his slugger’s durability. Bell played in 159 in 2017 and 148 last year.
“He has that type of body that’s built to play. He plays hard. I would hope that nobody thinks because he plays first (base), he doesn’t play hard.
“I’m not going to say he’s going to play 162. We monitor him like we do everybody else, and he’s probably taken more precautions as his career has advanced to keep himself in shape than ever before, being mindful of the recovery part of it.”
The most recent Pirates player to appear in every game was Jason Bay in 2005, when he hit 32 home runs with 101 RBIs and slashed .306/.402/.559. Before Thursday, Bell had posted .329/.398/.694. Bell is tied for the major league RBI lead (45) with Marcell Ozuna of the St. Louis Cardinals. Bell is third in slugging percentage and fourth in the National League in batting average.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .