Francisco Liriano was scheduled to go five innings or 80 pitches today, whichever came first. He threw 81 pitches, but did it in four innings. Liriano had some command problems, due to rushing through his delivery and going to his front side too quickly. The problem almost led to a key moment in the third inning, when Liriano issued a walk to Rusney Castillo, putting runners on first and second with one out in a scoreless game. That’s when Francisco Cervelli came out for a visit to the mound. After the visit, Liriano struck out the next two batters.

“He just told me stay back a little longer. You’re rushing too much,” Liriano said of what Cervelli told him.

The All-Francisco battery has worked together twice now, with their first game coming in the B game earlier this week against the Twins. They had a few bullpen sessions before that, and are starting to work well with each other.

“He plays similar to Russell [Martin] back there,” Liriano said. “You can throw anything in the dirt, he’ll block it for you. We’re on the same page so far. Things are great.”

Liriano said that he feels confident in Cervelli, and has a good idea of what he can do behind the plate. Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle said that the two have a good feel and a good tempo.

“We’re kind of knocking the to-do list off for Francisco Cervelli as far as who he hasn’t caught,” Hurdle said. “He’s just about at everybody right now.”

The exceptions would be A.J. Burnett from the rotation, and maybe one reliever. Cervelli has been impressive early on with his defense, and with the way he has picked up the pitching staff so quickly.

“Every time out there it’s add experience,” Hurdle said. “Every time out there it’s a little more growth for both of them. I don’t think we’re very far apart at all. [Cervelli’s] got a good feel for the game. He’s picked up on our guys. He’s been a quick learner.”

Jung-ho Kang Not Injured

There were concerns today that Jung-ho Kang was injured, due to the fact that he didn’t participate in workouts today. Clint Hurdle said after the game that today was a work day for him, and that he’s not injured.

“We’re just slowing him down a little bit,” Hurdle said. “We’re doing some work. Basically things we talk about during the season, work days. Specific work days. So we just kind of re-created what we’re doing with him.”

Kang has been struggling at the plate lately, so it’s possible the Pirates were just giving him a break. He also just moved over to second base to get reps at the position.

“He’s a very solid defender,” Hurdle said. “And actually, in 2008 he played second base. It’s not the first time he’s been there. It’s just giving him the reps.”

Andrew McCutchen Starting a Base Running Progression

Andrew McCutchen has been out with a lower body injury. The Pirates are taking a cautious approach with their superstar, as McCutchen has said he would be playing right now if it was the regular season. It looks like he might be nearing a return.

“He’s going to go through a base running progression on the bases tomorrow,” Hurdle said. “Had another full day of work activity. He’s feeling better.”

The Process For Getting Minor Leaguers a Big League Look

Austin Meadows has made a few appearances in big league camp this week, including a start in Friday’s split-squad game down in Fort Myers. I asked Hurdle today what led to the decisions that brought guys like Meadows up for a look in big league camp.

“Number one, I trust our farm system evaluators,” Hurdle said. “It’s Kyle Stark. It’s Larry Broadway. We ask for a list of players, of guys we’d like to present with opportunity to cut their teeth a little bit. It’s not just Austin Meadows. It’s [Elvis] Escobar that came up the other day and hit a triple to the right-center field gap. We got Reese McGuire up here the other day, didn’t find an opportunity. But it’s a lot of different players. JaCoby Jones is a guy we’re going to look at. It’s not really about advancing their development, it’s just exposing their development. Giving them an opportunity to play in a different environment, a different atmosphere. We’ve done it with guys in the past. It works for us, we believe in it, and we’ll continue to do it.”

Other Hurdle Notes

**Hurdle thinks that Antonio Bastardo will fit nicely with the Pirates in PNC Park.

“He’s finding a comfort zone. We’re trying to keep him from over-trying. He’s come here. He’s pitched a hitter friendly ball park his whole career. If he doesn’t change anything and just comes pitching for us, we’re defense outfield, defense infield, defense the park. We just think he’s going to be better.”

**Hurdle said that the Pirates aren’t concerned with Andrew Lambo’s struggles this Spring, and that it’s not reflective of his game.

“He’s working hard everyday. He’s been in a much better place mentally through this Spring Training. He’s not fighting anything. He’s just trying to have good at-bats, play when he’s asked to play, move around the outfield and first base. He’s had a very positive attitude. I told him not to read anything into it, other than just give us the best at-bat you can each time you grab that piece of lumber and go up to the plate.”

**As I reported yesterday, Stetson Allie has moved to right field, following his move to the minors last week. Hurdle talked about the move.

“We had conversations with him in the exit interview when we talked to him. Very athletic kid. See if we can provide him with some more freedom out there in the outfield to run around and go. He embraced it. There wasn’t a second thought on his part. He was looking forward to another opportunity. With the people and the players that we have playing positions, this could open up something for him to have a little more versatility as well…He’s athletic. The people that have watched him can tell you the guy can move. He can run. So at first base, you might not have been utilizing all the athleticism that he does have, so we’re going to find out what more is there, and what he can do out there.”

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32 COMMENTS

  1. This has always been the problem with Morton. Looked sharp in the first hitting his spots. Comes out in the 2nd and badly missing his spots and gets rocked. Mortons turned into a soft tosser. Those kinds of pitchers cannot miss. Put Locke and Worley in the #4 and #5 slots and send Morton to the long relief. Only pitch him when our starter is knocked out early. Or just get rid of him. Chris Carter just yawned during Charlie’s pitch and still hit it out

    • Not like pitchers are working on specific things in ST, or that he is working back from injury. We should for sure judge him on this start and misuse him this year, thats best. Morton isnt an ace, but fans seem to act like a flawed player is useless….even if he is a solid option. Injury issues? yeah. Inconsistent at times? Sure. A fine middle rotation arm? Absolutely, particularly since this team is all about GB pitchers who throw to contact.

      People dislike Morton because he doesnt have any one “wow” factor, he just goes out, gets GBs and does his thing. Some bad days, some good days, consistent 1+ WAR player.

    • Ditch a soft tosser who can not afford to miss his spots…..and replace him with jeff locke?! Didn’t really think that one through….

    • marty: Good advice from Hurdle, and it seems to be a battle between lefty batters Andrew Lambo (L, age 27 season), Jaff Decker (L, age 25 season), and Steve Lombardozzi (SW, age 27 season). Lambo and Decker are OF, Lombo can play anywhere. But, it may not be a battle for anything if the Pirates decide to carry an extra pitcher (Jeff Locke) for the first month. Hart, Rodriguez, Sanchez, and Kang could fill out the 25 man roster, which would have 13 pitchers and 12 position players. How the 25 man roster is designed could depend on the health/readiness of Charlie Morton and ‘Cutch. With pitchers going down on a regular basis around the majors, Jeff Locke is a very tradeable commodity, but is also very important to the Pirates.

      • That is why MLB should get their head out of their a s s es , and allow teams to carry 27 men on the roster for the month of april

        • Kendall was an iron man behind the plate, his workload for the era in which he played was unequaled.

      • Cervelli and Kendall are similar to weird injuries. Kendall was great until he broke his ankle running to 1st base. Never was the same. Was great until he did so. All I know is a ton of pitchers love Cervelli both here and with the Yankees. Trusting the pitchers here.

        • Oh, come on, you can’t be serious…

          Through season age 29 season:

          Cervelli: 785 PA, .729 OPS
          Kendall: 3,959 PA, .807 OPS, 3 AS appearances, 2 seasons batting .320+ while qualifying for batting title.

          Cervelli’s entire career has been, roughly, statistically equivalent to JK’s 3rd season. To equate the two in any way other than: they both caught for the Pirates, is silly.

          • Yes, Cervelli is not going to equal Kendall’s AS years before the ankle injury. I’m merely stating their playing styles offensively are similar, open stance, slap hitter that doesn’t wear batting gloves and plays the game hard with a lot of energy. If he can stay healthy and that’s a big if, I’d expect a year of .280 20 2b 5 hr and 50 rbi.

            • As a Pirate for five seasons, POST-ANKLE INJURY, Kendall averaged 656 PA/season, .302 BA, .778 OPS.

              Again, I like Cervelli, I think he was a nice pick up…I think he’s going to be much better than most people assume, but Kendall was a beast both pre and post ankle injury. Trying to equate the two is way off the mark.

              • blaine: Cervelli was a good pick-up and now has his opportunity to show he can be the primary Catcher for an MLB team. However, he has a long way (years) to go to earn comparisons to guys like RM or JK. I do like the fact that the pitchers have confidence in him, and I think he can be a positive contributor in 2015.

              • The mistake I see you making Blaine is you’re only comparing their bats. Cervelli was acquired for his defense first and foremost. In this regard, he is Kendall’s equivalent and more.

              • and at the same time, kendall was at best a mediocre option behind the plate. Cervelli had BETTER be superior than Kendall behind the plate or we are screwed this year. Honestly, who cares about offense as long as he doesn’t embarass himself out there. We need him controlling the running game and keeping the score low, blocking pitches (something you didn’t get much of from Kendall). Other than keeping himself from striking out and getting lots of singles, Kendall didn’t provide a whole lot besides his stability beyond home plate

                • Sure, let’s say Kendall was mediocre behind the plate…and, easily, one of the better hitting catchers of his era. Agreed?

                  Cervelli can be all world behind the plate (and I hope he is), but we’re still talking about a guy, going on 30, who’s yet to play 100 games in a season and who, in seven years, has only topped 50 games once. As opposed, Kendall caught at least 125 games eight times in nine years with the Bucs and 140+ games six times.

                  I think Cervelli will be fine, but making an argument of:

                  “Career numbers: Cervelli .278/.348/.381 vs Kendall .288/.366/.378”

                  Is just plain silly.

                  The pitchers can love him, the baserunners can fear him, but, until Cervelli can consistently play 120+ games, mentioning him in the same breath as Kendall is a tad premature.

                  • if we are only speaking about hitting for average…..sure. That being said, he should have retired 7 years before he did. He became as likely to hit a homer as rafeal belliard towards the end of his career

                    • So, he should have retired before his 2004 OPS+ season of 107 with the Bucs? Seems like a pretty good year to me…especially from a hitting deprived position.

                    • you need to learn to take people a little less literal man. you get my point. he was overpaid and provided little value

                    • Or, if you’re going to throw out a number, you might want to consider that numbers are definite things.

                      But, as it stands, Kendall was a strong offensive contributor at a position where that is uncommon.

                    • well my personality is based on generalities and using numbers to make a point, so make a note of that for the future, i’ve been here for years and ain’t going nowhere. And yes, he WAS, for a significant portion of his time in Pittsburgh, but not all of it. I’ll give you that. His whole career gets watered down by everything after Pittsburgh and his end in Pittsburgh and I’m hoping you can agree with that as well

                    • Kendall’s time in P’Burgh is all I’ve talked about. I’ll give you Piazza, hands down, and maybe I’m missing a guy or two or three after that…

                      …but, even in that’s the case, for the nine years he was with the Bucs JK was in the top five of catchers in MLB.

                      When he was traded to Oakland (for a woefully inadequate return), maybe he fell off a cliff because of overuse, or…perhaps…switching venues disturbed him somehow.

                      But his tenure with the Bucs was characterized by nothing but excellence.

                      Realistically, if Cervelli were to post a .306/.387/.418 season where he caught 139 games, walked more than he struck out in 2015 and stole 19 bases, everyone would be falling all over themselves about his greatness. That’s what JK averaged over 9 seasons…including ’99 when he played less than half a year.

                      I respect and agree that he wasn’t the greatest defender…but you’d have to dig deep to make an argument that the Pirates have ever had a better catcher.

                    • I guess the fact that he never lived up to those first few years as I was growing up has more of a lasting effect on me. Seeing how much worse as a catcher he was after the injury, couldn’t steal bases anymore, any power that he once had reduced to zero………to say he was good for a catcher is fair, but we needed more than that and paid for more than that from him. It was him and Giles, and he just wasn’t the dynamic player anymore. It isn’t his fault he got injured so i’m not blaming him, it just is what it is. That’s the piece I just don’t think you are with me on.

            • If he stays healthy, he’ll hit way more than 5 dingers, but Pirates want him to stay healthy for his defense. His ability to prevent runs is way more important to Pirates success this year than his ability to create them.

              • Other than framing, which is most likely the most important aspect, Cervelli is fairly middling in the other defensive areas, if fact if the Pirates only cared about defense and run prevention you could make the case that Stewart would be starting over Cervelli.

                • I’ll grant you, Pirates acquired him for both his offensive and defensive capabilities. He clearly has a superior bat than Stewart and may be slightly inferior to Stewart defensively. However, the Pirates may think more of his defense than the advanced metrics suggest. An example was illustrated in the article above. Cervelli was able to recognize what was troubling Liriano, went out and told him how to fix it, and it worked. How do you measure this quality?

                  • This conversation got off track when the comparison between Cervelli and Kendall went beyond just comparing their style and went into actual performance, which is beyond inane.

                    Cervelli was insurances when it became clear that Martin was pricing himself out of the Pirates range. Yes there is praise for his style and handling of pitchers but he is 29 with only a little more than a season of major league playing time. Looking at the catcher moved this off-season it is reasonable to question if the Pirates misread something as some more certain options were moved, I hope he does well but there is a huge range in potential outcome.

                    As for Liriano and not staying back, flying open is pretty much Liriano, it is something he is constantly battling, it is great Cervelli recognized it. However would another catcher have recognized it? These intangible aspects game exist and are real but they lack a certain degree of falsifiability, thus while fun to discuss there isn’t really a productive conversation to be had when comparing catchers.

                    • you bring up several good points. Especially the futility of comparing him to Kendall.

                      As far as other options, who was a better trade or FA signing option? I distinctly remember many smart people saying last fall the potential replacements for Martin were few and far between.

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