PITTSBURGH -- After an offseason of eating healthy and working out like never before, Francisco Cervelli declared his body a "Ferrari" this spring. So far, the Pirates catcher is firing on all cylinders at the plate.Cervelli homered in the second inning and launched a tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the sixth
PITTSBURGH -- After an offseason of eating healthy and working out like never before, Francisco Cervelli declared his body a "Ferrari" this spring. So far, the Pirates catcher is firing on all cylinders at the plate.
Cervelli homered in the second inning and launched a tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the sixth to spark the Pirates' 6-2 win over the Cardinals on Saturday night at PNC Park. Pittsburgh has won four in a row on the heels of a five-game losing streak, vaulting back into first place in the National League Central.
"Amazing. I've been working my whole life for things like this," said Cervelli, batting .307 with a .967 OPS. "This year, I'm healthy. That's the most important thing. And we are winning."
Cervelli has been no small part of the Pirates' early season success. He cleaned up his diet over the winter and revamped his four-month offseason training program, hoping to avoid the kind of injuries that ruined the last two seasons for him. Acting under advice from teammate Sean Rodriguez, Cervelli tweaked his batting stance in Spring Training, straightening up and incorporating a leg kick.
Good health, his characteristically good eye and what he describes as a "free" feeling in the batter's box: Put it all together, and Cervelli is leading the Pirates in on-base percentage (.393), slugging percentage (.573) and RBIs (20) a month into the season.
"I started from the beginning again. Let me learn how to play baseball again," Cervelli said. "So far, it's been good. … Baseball's not easy. Hitting's not easy. You've got to make it simple."
With two outs in the second inning, Cervelli clubbed his fourth home run out to left field against Cardinals rookie Jack Flaherty. His career-high home run total is seven, and he hit only six over the last two years combined.
"He put a good swing on it. We weren't able to see much of that last year," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You've seen a whole bunch of it all the way through the month of April."
Something else the Pirates saw all month? Gritty, effective starts from Trevor Williams. The right-hander delivered another one on Saturday, holding the Cardinals to two runs on four hits and two walks over six innings.
"He recognizes what kind of pitcher he is," Cervelli said. "He's not a power guy, but he throws fastballs. He gets people out with fastballs. He doesn't go away from what he has and he doesn't need anything else."
Williams lost a nine-pitch battle to Marcell Ozuna in the sixth inning, as Ozuna lined a go-ahead RBI single to left. But Williams buckled down after that, striking out Yadier Molina and getting William Fowler to pop out to finish the sixth. In the bottom of the inning, Josh Bell quickly tied it up with an RBI single to center, and Cervelli's sacrifice fly to deep center gave the Bucs a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Five of Williams' six outings have been six-inning quality starts. Carrying a 2.29 ERA a month into the season, Williams has yet to allow more than two runs in a start.
"Your job as a starter is to get through the sixth and to give the team a chance to win," Williams said. "There's nothing more to that."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Pirates padded their lead in the seventh inning, turning a one-run lead into a more comfortable three-run advantage after knocking out Flaherty and getting into the Cardinals' bullpen. After Jordy Mercer doubled, Rodriguez walked and both runners advanced on a passed ball. Pinch-hitter David Freese (who turned 35 on Saturday) then tacked on another run with a sacrifice fly to right field.
Then came an unusual sequence. Gregory Polanco was hit by a pitch and Starling Marte reached safely on a ball tapped back in front of the plate to load the bases. Corey Dickerson dropped a softly hit, two-out RBI single between the mound and third baseman Matt Carpenter.
"We got some breaks. Marte hits a ball in front of the plate and Rodriguez makes a fantastic read," Hurdle said, praising Rodriguez for returning to third base rather than trying to score. "Dickerson has a ball run in on him that he hits in a spot where nobody can get to it. But we set up innings. We kept getting guys out there. Sometimes you do that, you continually do that, you get rewards."
This was Hurdle's 600th win as the Pirates' manager. He is the fifth manager in club history to reach that mark, joining Fred Clarke (1,422), Danny Murtaugh (1,115), Jim Leyland (851) and Chuck Tanner (711).
The Pirates have won 16 games during the season's first month for just the second time in team history. The only other time they've won 16 games before the end of April? When the 1988 club went 16-6 in April and Bob Walk, now a Pittsburgh broadcaster, went 4-1 with a 1.42 ERA in five starts.
HE SAID IT
"The lineup has length to it. We went through some turbulence, and I told you guys I believed in the lineup. Going to keep running it out there until they give me a reason to not believe in the lineup. I think they've responded very well since we've been home."-- Hurdle, on Pittsburgh's lineup, which before scoring 31 runs over its last five games scored five runs in a four-game series in Philadelphia
Right-hander Nick Kingham will make his Major League debut as the Pirates wrap up their series against the Cardinals at 1:35 p.m. ET on Sunday at PNC Park. Kingham was drafted eight years ago, and the prospect's long road to the Majors -- interrupted in 2015 by Tommy John surgery -- will officially end in Pittsburgh as he faces Cards righty Luke Weaver.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.