ALTOONA, Pa. – Francisco Cervelli began a rehab assignment with Double-A Altoona on Thursday night. He was the designated hitter and batted third in the lineup, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and two walks.

Cervelli has been out since June 21st with concussion symptoms. First, he was placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list then was transferred to the 10-day disabled list in a paper move. He was working out with the Curve while they were in Erie earlier this week, and he officially resumed game activities on Thursday night.

“I feel good because I’m playing, and I’m able to be on the baseball field,” Cervelli said. “That’s the first step. I know tomorrow will be a better day. That’s what I’m looking for.”

Cervelli is scheduled to DH again on Friday for the Curve; however, the plan after that game is currently unknown. He said that he doesn’t feel like he needs to catch to get back into game shape; rather, he was having trouble seeing the ball after his concussion and needed to get at-bats.

Curve manager Michael Ryan said that Cervelli took part in all team activities today.

“He did everything,” Ryan said, “pop-ups, throw to bases, field bunts, caught a bullpen, blocked, and took batting practice. It was good.”

After no activity for a short period of time, Cervelli said that he has felt really good for more than a week. His concussion was deemed to have occurred from “cumulative effect”, but the hit he took to the jaw on June 9th at Wrigley Field was the worst.

“I got hit probably one week every day in the mask,” Cervelli said. “The one in the jaw was the hardest one. Sometimes, you think you’re ready, and you have post-concussion symptoms. That’s what happened. I started feeling bad and wasn’t playing the way I am supposed to. That’s not fair to my team, me, and the fans. I wanted to step away and recover 100% then come back and give everything I got.”

Pirates Director of Sports Medicine Todd Tomczyk recently said that this was Cervelli’s fourth concussive event since 2011. When asked if he has began to worry about brain injuries and his future, Cervelli said that he trusts his team of doctors.

“We have good doctors,” he said. “They do many things to keep me on the field and also to be good after baseball. That is something that is important. They know more than I do. I got to trust them. The doctors have been amazing to me, and I have a good group of people around helping me. It’s going to be fine.”

The fans in Altoona were ecstatic to have the major leaguer play at their home field, with Cervelli receiving a loud applause each team he was introduced to bat (with “That’s Amore” playing in the background, of course). Never one to shy away from his emotions, Cervelli very much appreciated the fan support.

“Amazing,” Cervelli said. “It’s great to know that what you’re doing in the field creates an impact for especially the kids. Fans want to see you play hard and get dirty, but also enjoy the game and smile. That’s what this is all about; this is a game. When you come to places like this and you see them reacting the way they did today, it’s everything. Sometimes the result is nothing to compare with the feeling that I have right now.”

He went on to say that the people of Western Pennsylvania have been incredible, and Pittsburgh is a place that he wants to retire, calling it home now.

“The beautiful thing is the people,” he said. “No matter what happens to me, they always support me. It’s love.”

Of course, the Pirates haven’t lacked in the catching department in Cervelli’s absence. Elias Diaz is currently hitting .301 for the Pirates. Since June 10th, Diaz has a .323 average with three home runs. Those numbers look like a backup trying to take a starter’s job; however, Cervelli only had extremely high praise for his partner in the majors.

“It’s amazing to see Diaz – it’s not a secret that this guy can do it,” Cervelli said. “He’s getting a lot of opportunity right now, and he’s showing everybody what he can do. It’s amazing. He’s probably the best partner I’ve ever had. He helps me a lot. This guy is going to be really good. I like what I see. I’ll come back, and I want to help win games.”

After Friday’s game, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cervelli is back in Pittsburgh by Saturday if all goes according to plan.

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