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Stewart makes presence felt in return

Catcher throws out two runners in one inning
MLB.com

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Chris Stewart was scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Friday, but after a deliberate rehabilitation process and a measured start to Spring Training, he was anxious to get back on the field.

As Stewart showed in Tuesday's 6-3 win over the Braves, he was ready. He picked off one runner and caught another one stealing in the same inning, caught four innings and drew a walk in one of his two plate appearances.

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Chris Stewart was scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Friday, but after a deliberate rehabilitation process and a measured start to Spring Training, he was anxious to get back on the field.

As Stewart showed in Tuesday's 6-3 win over the Braves, he was ready. He picked off one runner and caught another one stealing in the same inning, caught four innings and drew a walk in one of his two plate appearances.

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More importantly, Stewart's surgically repaired left knee felt healthy and strong.

"Kind of tested everything -- blocking, throwing, hitting, running. Everything went well," Stewart said. "Everything felt great. First time I've felt like that in a long time, so I'm excited for the next time I'm going to get out there."

Video: ATL@PIT: Stewart talks about his health and debut

Stewart had surgery on Sept. 20, spent two weeks on crutches and began testing out his knee in December. He didn't spend much time behind the plate until Spring Training began last month. Shortly after that, he sat down with trainers and coaches to map out a work schedule. The 35-year-old knows his postgame routine will be a little longer than it was in the past, with more time in the ice tub, more massages and more maintenance to keep him on the field.

The Pirates eased him into camp -- running him through drills and holding him out of the first week and a half of games -- but Stewart stayed busy with the long view in mind. He worked separately on blocking, throwing and pitch-framing. He caught bullpens and watched others. Finally, he felt ready to go a few days ahead of schedule.

"Just the small, tedious things," Stewart said. "I got the itch and wanted to get out there, wanted to test it out today. Everything felt great, so I'm excited about that."

The Pirates value Stewart, projected to back up starting catcher Francisco Cervelli this season, for his defense behind the plate. He showed why Tuesday, specifically in the second inning.

After a single and a walk off right-hander Trevor Williams, Stewart caught Anthony Recker too far off second base. Assured Recker wouldn't dash to third, Stewart fired a strong throw to shortstop Phil Gosselin to pick off Recker.

Williams struck out Matt Tuiasosopo for the second out of the inning, and the Braves put on a double steal. Stewart quickly threw down to second baseman Max Moroff, who caught Micah Johnson stealing to end the inning before Ronald Acuna could score from third.

Video: ATL@PIT: Pirates connect on double play to end frame

"He helped me out a lot," Williams said. "It's nice to see that in his first game back. I think he's good the rest of spring. I'm going to talk to [manager] Clint [Hurdle] tomorrow about giving him the rest of the spring off and get him ready for the season."

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, Chris Stewart