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Offseason changes have Cervelli feeling great

Catcher altered diet and workout regimen, now feels like a kid again
MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- After two years marred by injuries, Francisco Cervelli overhauled his offseason routine. He hired a new trainer, and began a new workout routine. He changed his diet, too. Out went gluten, dairy products and fried food.

The first change was made for obvious reasons: To increase his flexibility and keep him on the field more often than the last two years. As for the nutrition overhaul?

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- After two years marred by injuries, Francisco Cervelli overhauled his offseason routine. He hired a new trainer, and began a new workout routine. He changed his diet, too. Out went gluten, dairy products and fried food.

The first change was made for obvious reasons: To increase his flexibility and keep him on the field more often than the last two years. As for the nutrition overhaul?

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"I try to put the right gas in my car. I am a Ferrari," Cervelli said, "so I want to treat my car the right way."

So far, this spring has been a smooth ride for the Pirates' starting catcher. Cervelli hit his second Spring Training home run in the first inning of the Bucs' 13-5 win over the Twins on Saturday, and finished 2-for-3 with a walk, bumping his average up to .400 (8-for-20), in six innings.

"I feel better and better," he said. "I don't get too excited over homers. I prefer to do it during the season. But when you see the positive things, it makes you feel good."

Cervelli is not caught up in small sample Spring Training statistics, but he is excited about the way he feels. Cervelli focused his offseason training around the movements (but not the fighting) of capoeira, a Brazilian martial art. He had always been flexible as a catcher, but the last two years' worth of injuries led him to develop bad physical habits on the field.

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When Cervelli reported to Spring Training, he joked that he forgot how he was supposed to stand at the plate. And now? After a slow start at the plate, he has eight hits (including two homers) in his last 13 at-bats.

"I feel like a little kid again," he said. "It's amazing. … I put [in] quality work and I feel great."

Manager Clint Hurdle has also noticed the improvement in Cervelli's physical condition.

"This, for me, is the best I've seen him move since we've had him," Hurdle said. "The first year we got him, he was very athletic. He's more athletic right now. He's lighter on his feet. In the [batter's] box -- the swing force and the connection -- we've seen some things early that we hadn't seen in the past.

"Really like the way he's shown up, and the attitude he brings when he's in the lineup, and what he's sharing when he's not."

The Pirates believe a healthy Cervelli will produce at the plate, and behind it. That was the case in 2015, when he played a career-high 130 games, hit .295/.370/.401, totaled 3.1 Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball-Reference.com, and led one of the Majors' best pitching staffs to a 98-win season.

Then came the injuries. He was limited to 101 games in 2016 due to a fractured hamate bone in his left hand. Last year, he missed time due to right foot soreness, a concussion, left wrist inflammation and a strained left quad that ultimately ended his season.

There was no doubt in his mind that something had to change over the offseason -- whether it was his workout routine or how he fueled the Ferrari.

"I have to keep doing it," Cervelli said, "because I want to play for a long time."

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, Francisco Cervelli