BRADENTON, Fla. -- Francisco Cervelli raised his eyebrows, rubbed the back of his head and grinned. He wanted to hear the question again, and he wanted Gregory Polanco to listen. So, one of the reporters gathered in front of Cervelli's locker repeated, "Now that you've established yourself as a home
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Francisco Cervelli raised his eyebrows, rubbed the back of his head and grinned. He wanted to hear the question again, and he wanted Gregory Polanco to listen. So, one of the reporters gathered in front of Cervelli's locker repeated, "Now that you've established yourself as a home run hitter …"
Polanco laughed and Cervelli smiled again.
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"That made me feel sexy right now," Cervelli said.
Yes, Cervelli is feeling good as he prepares for his fifth -- and potentially final -- season with the Pirates. He missed time last year due to concussions, but he slugged a career-high 12 homers in 104 games and finished the season without any lingering issues. Trade rumors involving him fizzled this winter. And his offseason workout routine has him feeling 10 years younger.
"Just keeping my body healthy like it was last year. I feel like I'm 22 years old again," Cervelli said. "It's amazing."
Cervelli once again worked with trainer Theo Aasen, whose creative workouts helped him get in shape for last season after an injury-plagued 2017 campaign. You might have seen some of them on social media -- Cervelli doing capoeira with MLS MVP Josef Martinez, a fellow native of Venezuela, or squatting shirtless on a white sand beach, or bouncing a tennis ball while crouching, or pushing a wheelbarrow full of rocks across the grass.
"Been doing this for 17 years, so I like to work, but at the same time have fun," Cervelli said. "Sometimes it can get a little boring."
Cervelli was sidelined last June and again in July by concussion symptoms. He worked with Aasen over the winter to test his eyes and reflexes, but he dryly noted just how unavoidable foul tips and back-swings are in his line of work.
"The prevention, probably got to build a wall in the front of home plate, a concrete wall to not get hit," he said.
The Pirates could also use Cervelli at first base, as they did five times last season. That would allow them to occasionally spell Josh Bell while keeping both Cervelli and catcher Elias Díaz in the lineup. Cervelli is open to the idea, but it's not his preference.
"I'm a catcher. I'll play first if they need it, but I'm a catcher. I love to catch more than hit, so I like to be there," he said. "In the end, [manager Clint Hurdle] is the boss. If he wants me to work at first and third, whatever, I'll do it. It's not a problem. If it's for the team, it's good. But I'm a catcher."
And Cervelli is still a Pirate, despite the club's reported willingness to trade him as he enters the final season of his three-year contract extension. Catchers J.T. Realmuto, Russell Martin, Yan Gomes and Mike Zunino were dealt over the offseason, but Cervelli appears to be staying put.
"I'm here now. I've got this uniform. I'm going to make sure to represent it well," Cervelli said. "If they decide to do something different, I'll be thankful [to the Pirates], but I hope not. This is the place I want to be."
As for the idea of being a home run hitter? Cervelli dramatically improved his power numbers last season by standing taller in the batter's box and incorporating a leg kick. He said he wasn't trying to increase his launch angle, but it jumped from 6.1 degrees in 2017 to 15.7 degrees last season. His slugging percentage ticked up from .370 to .431, and he still got on base at a .378 clip.
"Last year was the first time when I felt something different. I think I've got to keep doing the same thing," Cervelli said. "I told you guys, I feel like I'm a better player than in years before. There's nothing wrong [with] being a home run hitter. … I changed my stance. I do a leg kick. And it's helping.
"I hope I can hit double-digits again. With a '2' in the front."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.