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Increased playing time a boon to backstop Diaz

Pirates catcher studying with bench coach between games to improve rapport with pitchers
MLB.com

CINCINNATI -- The Pirates are getting a long look at catcher Elias Diaz this month, starting the rookie in 12 of their final 14 games. While the Bucs believe more consistent playing time will benefit Diaz as they look toward next season, some of his most important work takes place between games.

Most afternoons, Diaz reviews sequences from the previous day's game with bench coach Tom Prince, a former catcher, often alongside veterans Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. Manager Clint Hurdle recently called it a "simulator," a chance for Diaz to break down games in retrospect or when he's not playing.

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CINCINNATI -- The Pirates are getting a long look at catcher Elias Diaz this month, starting the rookie in 12 of their final 14 games. While the Bucs believe more consistent playing time will benefit Diaz as they look toward next season, some of his most important work takes place between games.

Most afternoons, Diaz reviews sequences from the previous day's game with bench coach Tom Prince, a former catcher, often alongside veterans Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. Manager Clint Hurdle recently called it a "simulator," a chance for Diaz to break down games in retrospect or when he's not playing.

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"It helps me a lot. It's a new experience," Diaz said. "Every day, hitters make adjustments, so all pitchers make adjustments. We have to adjust right away. We've got a game plan, but in the game, we have to think while we play the games."

Diaz, who will be out of Minor League options next year, has struggled after a hot start offensively, batting .188 with a .467 OPS in his past 24 Major League games entering Saturday. But the Pirates prioritize their catchers' defense and their ability to work with pitchers.

Video: CHC@PIT: Diaz smacks an RBI double to right field

Diaz undoubtedly has a strong arm. He's thrown out five of the 14 runners who have attempted to steal against him this season, and he back-picked Joey Votto at first base during the Pirates' 2-1 loss to the Reds on Saturday. The Pirates believe the 26-year-old has room to grow behind the plate.

"He's a good player. He's a good catcher. He's just getting more time, more experience," Hurdle said. "Really sharp play, the back-pick. … He's a guy who's going to be able to do it. That helps shut down the running game as well. Blocking balls, he was very impressive again today. He's working hard, getting a little bit better every day."

Some of that development takes place on the field and in those catchers' meetings with Prince, where they focus more on the thought process behind each pitch instead of just the result of the at-bat.

"You don't just pick out the situations that didn't work. You pick out the nice sequences," Hurdle said. "'Hey, this one really worked well. You set him up well here. What was your thought pattern behind it?' Sometimes you get the wrong result when you made the right call. Sometimes it's the right pitch, just not execution. You walk him through those scenarios.

"It's been repetitive. There's been a lot of emphasis put in it. Tom Prince has been great working through that with him."

Video: PIT@CIN: Diaz shows off his incredible arm strength

Left-hander Steven Brault pitched to Diaz in the Minors, and he most recently worked six one-hit innings with him on Monday at Miller Park. He praised Diaz for matching his personality to each day's starting pitcher and his improved pitch-calling.

Earlier this season, Diaz called more offspeed pitches while Brault preferred to attack hitters with fastballs. They had a conversation about it and adjusted accordingly. On Monday, 76 of Brault's 92 pitches to Diaz were fastballs.

"I've been able to develop a rapport with him pretty well," Brault said. "That's something he's started to do a lot more, getting with pitchers and talking about what their game plan is, not just what a game plan should be. He's getting more specific."

Worth noting

Starling Marte was out of the starting lineup Saturday for the second straight day due to left shoulder and finger discomfort, the result of a head-first slide on Wednesday. Marte underwent treatment on Saturday, and the Pirates will check to see if he can play in Sunday's series finale.

• Reliever Joaquin Benoit, who has been away from the team while tending to a family issue in the Dominican Republic, will rejoin the Pirates on Monday.

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

 

Pittsburgh Pirates, Elias Diaz