PITTSBURGH — Elias Diaz had six MLB plate appearances in his career before this season, and he went 0-for-6 over the last two season. This year, he’s hitting .320/.393/.560 for a fairly ridiculous .953 OPS. That’s roughly 170 points higher than his best full season in the minors — he posted a .781 mark with Bradenton in 2013 — which is almost certainly an unsustainable pace.
But it’s certainly good to see him make a quick adjustment to Major League pitching. Regular backup Chris Stewart has already begun rehabilitating his left hamstring injury and should be ready to return sooner than later, but if Diaz can keep hitting, he may force the Pirates hand into finding a way to keep him around. At the very least, Diaz seems to be poised to step into some type of Major League role for the 2018 season, whether it’s replacing Stewart as the backup or potentially more if the Pirates decided to trade Francisco Cervelli.
Diaz has a very strong arm, and while he’s still working on some of the other aspects of his defense, he said there isn’t a big difference for him between catching in Triple-A and in the majors — particularly because he’s already caught so many of the Pirates’ pitchers.
“The only difference is that they’re better hitters,” he said “It’s better hitters with more experience.”
That’s what makes Diaz’s offensive breakout so promising: if he was going to struggle at making the adjustment to the big leagues in one aspect of the game, that probably would have been it. He said doing additional pregame thanks to the additional tools at his disposal has helped him, particularly when it comes to being more aware of what each individual opposing pitcher has in their arsenal.
“It’s different,” he said. “You have to have a plan. But they still have to throw the ball over the plate. You have to look for a pitch that you can hit.”
Dovydas Neverauskas made the drive to Pittsburgh from Toledo, where Triple-A Indianapolis was playing. It was a bit more calm than his first time in the majors, when he arrived from at the ballpark in-game and was immediately inserted into the action.
“I know where to walk in, which door to go to, where the locker room is. It’s a lot easier,” he said.
Neverauskas also won’t have to deal with any of the hype surrounding his debut as the first Lithuanian-born MLB player.
“Less of that now,” he said. “I can just do what I do.”
Clint Hurdle did not reveal any long-term changes to the makeup of his bullpen beyond the fact that Wade LeBlanc, Felipe Rivero and Tony Watson are all likely to be unavailable on Thursday. Juan Nicasio would close in that situation.
I asked Hurdle if the struggles of Watson — and to a lesser extent, Daniel Hudson — perhaps could pave the way to a bullpen with fewer defined roles in it. It would make sense that a bullpen with only one or two quality arms would have the most pressure to use them efficiently. Hurdle agreed that it made sense but provided a significant caveat.
“It makes all the sense in the world to just float out there and wait for the phone to ring — it does,” he said. “That’s not the way it works, unfortunately. I’ve spent a little time in this game. There was a time I thought it might work like that. I’ve talked to the people involved. They do like some routine. They like some rhythm.
“I’ve never really worked with a closer-by-committee situation. If your fortunate to have three or four guys that pitch that well, you’re in a pretty good spot. Most of the time, it’s closer by committee if you don’t have a closer. Then, you’re looking for the guy to close.
“I think we’ve got two guys (Nicasio and Rivero) to look at, if Watson’s not the closer, to at least consider. Could those two guys morph into that (role)? That’s something I think we’ve talked about. But that’s all it is right now.
“The challenge is that I’ve got a lot of people that think you just flip Rivero and Watson. That’s great, but I’ve done this in the past and I’ve made the flip and then I didn’t get to the closer for nine days. That’s just the reality of it. Felipe has pitched the most leverage (innings) of any guy in the bullpen to this point in the season. You have to weight that.”
RHP Ivan Nova said that has left knee is feeling fine. Nova left his last start in Baltimore with what the team called “irritation.” He won’t throw a between-starts bullpen session, but Nova said that he doesn’t always do that, anyway.
RHP Jameson Taillon will return to Pittsburgh from Toledo, where he threw his third minor-league rehab start Wednesday night. He’ll perform his regular routine in Pittsburgh. His next regular day to pitch would be June 12. That’s the first game of a three-game series with the Colorado Rockies. The Pirates have not released probable pitchers for that start, but it lines up with Chad Kuhl’s next regular turn in the rotation.