PITTSBURGH – Catcher Erik Kratz, who was acquired by the Pirates Saturday from the Los Angeles Angels, will start tonight and catch Jon Niese for the first time, less than 24 hours after first arriving in Pittsburgh. It’s been a whirlwind couple of days for Kratz, who had to ask reporters what day it was while retelling his path to Pittsburgh.
He was about to hit for the first time when he was pulled from his game with Triple-A Salt Lake in Fresno, California at about 10:30 p.m. Eastern Friday night. He then had a sequence of three flights to get across country, arriving just before the Pirates’ game Saturday night.
He spent the first few innings watching film, and came out to the dugout just in time to watch Chris Stewart get hurt blocking the plate in the seventh inning. Into the fire with minimal preparation went Kratz.
“Rip the band-aid off,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever really caught anyone like [Arquimedes] Caminero before.”
While Kratz didn’t have much specific experience with the Pirates’ pitching staff, he’s certainly an experienced Major-League receiver.
“Erik’s done this a number of times in his career,” Clint Hurdle said. “It’s not easy, but it’s what he does. … He’s got a lot of gainful experience that we’ll be able to utilize here.”
Kratz said his 2016 journey, which now has taken him to four different organizations across the country, hasn’t been an ideal one, but he’s not complaining at this point.
“Any time you get an opportunity you get in the big leagues, you have to enjoy it,” he said.
For Kratz, his game plan with Niese is about continuing the string of success for the Pirates’ lefty. Niese has allowed two runs or fewer in five consecutive starts. He had one of his best outings of the season last turn against the New York Mets, allowing just four hits and no runs over seven innings.
“I’m looking at his past starts looking to see where he’s been,” Kratz said. “I’m looking at his starts even back to the Mets what he’s done against [the Cardinals], how he’s attacked them, and talked to him about his strengths and what he wants to do.”
Stewart said his ankle is feeling better and he is available off the bench.
Speaking of Caminero, he looked like a different pitcher in his return to the big leagues after a rehab stint for his strained quad.
He pitched to five batters in the ninth inning, allowing a ground-ball single up the middle and a walk, but the threw 10 strikes compared to four balls. His fastball command was even better, with seven of his nine offerings going as strikes.
“We’re trying to get [his] foot down on time, separation of the hands and the arm in the right position,” Hurdle said. “I thought there was a little improvement last night.”
According to Hurdle, the work Triple-A pitching coach Stan Kyles has been able to do with all of the pitchers that have been shuttling between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis has helped most of them come back with improvement.
“The job Stan Kyles and Dean Treanor have done down there has been admirable,” Hurdle said. “They don’t get talked about much, but they’ve done a good job with the guys they’ve sent back.”
Tim Williams wrote last month about what makes Kyles a good pitching coach.
• The St. Louis Cardinals are going for their first sweep of the Pirates since 2009. They are now two games ahead of the Pirates.
• Infielder Matt Carpenter won’t play for the second straight day due to inflammation in his finger.