Pirates hope time off benefits Francisco Cervelli
Starting pitcher Chris Archer wasn’t the only player management was watching closely Tuesday night when the Pittsburgh Pirates opened a six-game homestand at PNC Park.
Veteran catcher Francisco Cervelli was in the starting lineup against the Colorado Rockies in his first appearance since May 15. His batting average had fallen to .179, 94 points off his lifetime number (.273).
Manager Clint Hurdle was eager to see if the time off helped the 33-year-old Cervelli.
“We’re going to see where he can take it,” Hurdle said. “The most important thing is to get him involved in game situations.
“We worked on some things. I think he found the time down very beneficial because they weren’t spa days. They were extensive work days. Field work, cage work, velocity work, spin work. Now, we’ll see if we got an improved and a better position in the box and see more of guy we saw last year.
Cervelli hit. 259 with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs in 2018 while playing only 104 games due to concussion concerns.
Before Tuesday, however, he had only one homer, with five RBIs.
The Pirates’ problems behind the plate were magnified by the virus that plagued backup catcher Elias Diaz in spring training and didn’t allow him to join the team until April 22. His average was as low as .158 May 14 before getting eight hits in 16 at-bats in the four games Cervelli missed.
Hurdle also liked getting Diaz reacquainted with his pitchers after catching 82 games while replacing Cervelli last season.
“He got to work with everybody on the staff, which is also important,” he said.
Hurdle said having two competent catchers “sure does help.”
“The volume of games played for everybody has decreased. The game’s changed,” he said.
When Gary Carter was with the Montreal Expos in 1982, he wore the catcher’s pads behind home plate for a career-high 153 games. When Hurdle and Carter were together with the New York Mets in 1985, Carter caught 143. The Mets thought he could handle the workload and the backup was a man named Hurdle, who was mainly an emergency catcher (22 career games).
“(Manager) Davey Johnson went a couple weeks with me as his backup and that’s just absolutely crazy,” Hurdle said. “But that’s what he did to add a pitcher at time when he thought it was needed.”
Hurdle added that the various starting times for games these days “doesn’t help (a player’s) rest cycles at all,” increasing the need for capable backups at every position.
Yadier Molina, 36, caught 45 of the St. Louis Cardinals’ first 47 games after catching 146 three years ago, but he’s the exception to the rule.
“The more capable catchers you get, I think you’re better served,” Hurdle said.
For the Pirates, that’s involves the tricky matter of getting Cervelli’s bat hot while keeping Diaz’s that way.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .