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Pirates

New training approach working wonders for Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, March 19, 2018, 9:54 p.m.
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli smiles after taking an inside pitch during a spring training game at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli smiles after taking an inside pitch during a spring training game at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli walks to the dugout with pitcher Nick Kingham before a spring training game at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli walks to the dugout with pitcher Nick Kingham before a spring training game at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli reacts to an inside pitch during a spring training game at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli reacts to an inside pitch during a spring training game at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — A look at Francisco Cervelli's three years with the Pirates shows a steady decline in almost every statistical category.

After playing in 130 games in 2015 — 40 percent more than he played in any league, anywhere — Cervelli signed a three-year, $31 million contract extension May 17, 2016, that brought him security, but was followed by misfortune.

That night, he was 3 for 5 with one of his 13 career stolen bases. The future looked bright, but it got hazy in a hurry.

He was on the disabled list within a month after surgery to repair a hook in the hamate bone in his left wrist. He was hit in the head by a pitch Aug. 2 in Atlanta. Eight days later, he left a game with left wrist discomfort.

By the end of the season, he had played in only 101 games, and his batting average fell 31 points from .295 the previous year.

Last season, he was on the disabled list four times: twice for a concussion, one each for the wrist and a quad injury. He didn't play after Aug. 26, and before that, he participated in half the games (81) with a career-low .249 average.

The concussions were problematic because they weren't his first. In 2012 with the New York Yankees, he suffered a concussion in a home-plate collision and visited a specialist.

There isn't much Cervelli can do about errant pitches, foul tips and collisions when the baseball and a runner greet him at the same time. But he took action this offseason, anyway, to get his body right.

Cervelli hired a new trainer who taught him Brazilian jiu-jitsu, emphasizing movement of his joints, not fighting.

“This guy is amazing, very positive,” Cervelli said. “He made me believe there are other ways to make my body feel good.

“It was weird, all the movement. I couldn't move. Little by little, I started picking it up, and it started making sense.”

The results are leading Cervelli to believe he can stay healthy this season.

“I feel like a little kid. It's amazing. I'm flexible again,” he said.

“I've always been flexible, but the last couple years because of injuries I had a lot of bad habits. Now, I put in quality work and I feel great.”

Cervelli, 32, figured the new training method wouldn't work without the right fuel. He did something about that, too.

“No gluten, no dairy, no fried food,” he said of his new diet. “I try to put the right gas in my car. I'm a Ferrari. I want to treat my car the right way.

“I want to play for a long time.”

Cervelli was 1 for 3 on Monday in an 11-8 Pirates victory against the Minnesota Twins to put his spring average at .391. He has been swinging the bat well after going hitless in his first four games.

He had three doubles in two games earlier this month. He has six hits in his past 10 at-bats, including two home runs.

The blasts are significant because he went from September 2015 to September 2016 hitting only one.

Having Cervelli healthy for a full season would be one step toward respectability, if not contention, in the National League Central.

Cervelli believes the Pirates will surprise the doubters.

“I want to invite people to see with their eyes. We are hungry,” he said.

“It doesn't matter what happened in the offseason. There are still quality players here. I don't care what people say. I don't care what place they put us.

“The only people who have to believe is us.

“Get dirty every day. That's the only way we can do it. The way we have been working here is what (those outside the locker room) cannot see.”

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

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