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Cervelli at the corners? Not so fast

Lyles posts solid line in Pirates debut; prospects lead way in 4-3 win over Red Sox
@adamdberry
February 25, 2019

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Francisco Cervelli started the Pirates’ 4-3 win against the Red Sox on Monday afternoon at first base. He fielded a few grounders at third base during drills on Sunday morning at LECOM Park, and manager Clint Hurdle mentioned the idea of getting him more work at the

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Francisco Cervelli started the Pirates’ 4-3 win against the Red Sox on Monday afternoon at first base. He fielded a few grounders at third base during drills on Sunday morning at LECOM Park, and manager Clint Hurdle mentioned the idea of getting him more work at the hot corner.

But Cervelli left little doubt when asked about the idea of moving around the infield: He’s still a catcher. The Pirates are just giving their veteran catcher a little time to ease into Spring Training before putting him behind the plate in games.

“It’s Spring Training, so I can do whatever,” Cervelli said. “When we start the season, you’re going to see me behind the plate.”

Cervelli, who will turn 33 on March 6, said he could catch in a game later this week or early next week. But the coaching staff wants him to be active in the meantime, so he can stay involved in Grapefruit League games by serving as a designated hitter, first baseman or, maybe, third baseman.

“He’s the catcher. I know he’s the catcher. If he wants at-bats and he can’t DH every time, where are you going to go?” Hurdle said. “He understands that as well. It’s getting him the at-bats, keeping him in the flow of play as far as game speed.”

Cervelli still took part in a mound visit on Monday, for example. While right-hander Jesus Liranzo worked through a wild fourth inning, Cervelli and catcher Jacob Stallings both approached the mound. Cervelli ended the mound meeting with a friendly tap to Liranzo’s cheek.

“We just don’t want to get him behind the plate too early right now,” Hurdle said. “That’s the way we’re keeping him engaged -- DH, first base, maybe third.”

Depending on how Pittsburgh’s roster takes shape, Cervelli could occasionally back up Josh Bell at first base during the season, as he did a few times last year. It’s harder to see him doing much at third, as the Pirates already have two players -- Jung Ho Kang and Colin Moran -- competing for the starting job. As a backup with the Yankees, Cervelli played five innings at third base (2010-11) and three innings at second base (2011, ’13).

“I always consider myself the No. 26 man on the roster, so [in an] emergency, I can go there and help a little,” Cervelli said. “Whatever I can do to help the team, I will do it. I think I can help more catching.”

Lyles takes the mound

After fifth starter candidates Steven Brault and Nick Kingham pitched the past two days, right-hander Jordan Lyles took his turn on Monday. Lyles allowed one run on the only hit he gave up, a Bryce Brentz homer, over two innings. He walked a batter and struck out one.

The Pirates were intrigued by the right-hander as a free agent due in part to the changes he made to his arsenal out of the bullpen last season, when he threw more curveballs and saw his fastball velocity tick up. Lyles made a point of throwing more changeups than usual during his spring debut, but he finished the second inning with a full-count curveball for strike three.

“No one’s going to stand out there and say, ‘Here’s the ball. Hit it.’ It’s a give and take when you’re out there,” Lyles said. “Not giving up runs is the No. 1 goal, obviously. I know what I need to do and what I need to work on, and I’m going to find those spots where I can work on them.”

Game report

Moran doubled and scored on Kevin Newman's sacrifice fly in the second inning. Liranzo didn’t allow a run despite giving up a hit and two walks and hitting two batters with pitches during his 1 2/3 innings on the mound. Four of the five outs he recorded were strikeouts. The Red Sox took a two-run lead against lefty Elvis Escobar in the sixth inning.

The Pirates’ prospects engineered a three-run eighth inning to win the game. Oneil Cruz drew a bases-loaded walk, and non-roster outfielder JB Shuck scored the tying run on a Dylan Busby groundout. Lolo Sanchez then broke the tie with an RBI single to center, giving Pittsburgh its third straight win.

Worth noting

• Right-hander Trevor Williams threw two innings while late-inning relievers Felipe Vázquez, Keone Kela and Richard Rodríguez each worked one inning during a simulated game on Monday morning at the Pirate City complex.

Jameson Taillon on Monday received a canvas print of his “ALL ME” public service ad for the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which is launching a campaign to educate kids about the risks and dangers associated with performance-enhancing substances. Taillon replaced Jared Hughes as the Pirates’ representative on the Hooton Foundation’s Advisory Board last year.

Up next

Top prospect Mitch Keller will start for the Pirates on Tuesday as they head south to Fort Myers for a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Twins at Hammond Stadium. Also scheduled to pitch for Pittsburgh are right-handers Michael Feliz, Brandon Maurer and JT Brubaker and left-hander Tyler Lyons. The radio broadcast will be available via webcast on Pirates.com.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.