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Archer, Cervelli in sync with 3 shutout innings

Right-hander credits catcher for his scoreless start to spring
@adamdberry
March 10, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. -- Last September, Chris Archer simplified his mechanics and decision-making on the mound. He ditched his windup and worked exclusively out of the stretch. He leaned on catcher Francisco Cervelli and threw whatever pitches he called. That led to a strong final month for Archer, and the same

TAMPA, Fla. -- Last September, Chris Archer simplified his mechanics and decision-making on the mound. He ditched his windup and worked exclusively out of the stretch. He leaned on catcher Francisco Cervelli and threw whatever pitches he called.

That led to a strong final month for Archer, and the same ingredients have made for an encouraging start to Spring Training. With Cervelli behind the plate, Archer fired three scoreless innings and struck out four against a representative Yankees lineup in the Pirates' 6-5 loss on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

"I think he kept it in his brain, the last month of the season last year, and the way he's been working this spring is special," Cervelli said. "It doesn't surprise me."

Archer put up a 2.70 ERA in five starts last September, and Cervelli was behind the plate for every outing. Archer has worked five shutout innings with eight strikeouts and only two singles allowed in two starts this spring.

He gave up a leadoff single to Brett Gardner and immediately erased the baserunner with a double-play grounder. Giancarlo Stanton hit a single to right field, and Archer responded by striking out Greg Bird. Archer worked two more perfect innings after that and exited after throwing 49 pitches.

"Didn't matter if I was facing guys in rookie ball or future and former MVPs, [we] had a game plan. Cervy and I stuck to it. We went out there and executed," Archer said. "Overall, being healthy, stepping away healthy and stepping away with positive results is always a good thing."

Archer has repeatedly given Cervelli credit, saying that he put all of his trust in the veteran catcher after posting a 6.45 ERA in his first month with the Pirates. The two of them spent even more time getting to know each other this offseason, and they had plenty of chances to bond during a charitable trip to Puerto Rico with Pirates special assistant Mike Gonzalez.

The Pirates believe it is only the beginning of a strong, productive relationship.

"I spend more time with those guys than my family, so if we don't have a connection or a good relationship, it's not going anywhere," Cervelli said. "You don't have to be friends with everybody, but you've got to respect each other and have each other's back. That's what we do. This group is amazing."

Around the horn
• Catcher Elias Díaz has returned to Pirates camp. Díaz likely won’'t be ready for Opening Day after being sidelined for two weeks due to a virus, and manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates do not have a timetable for his return.

"We're happy to have him back," Hurdle said. "We've set up a plan. We'll follow the plan. We'll see if we can increase pace or reps as we go along."

• Opening Day starter Jameson Taillon, who has been pitching in simulated games this spring, will make his Grapefruit League debut on Tuesday against the Twins at LECOM Park. Taillon is then scheduled to pitch five innings against the Red Sox on March 17, which would give him time to make one more Spring Training start prior to facing the Reds on March 28 in Cincinnati.

• Outfield prospect Bryan Reynolds was scratched from the Pirates' lineup on Sunday as a precaution due to left hamstring discomfort. Bralin Jackson, brought over from Minor League camp, got the start in right field in Reynolds' place and drove in a run on a sacrifice fly.

Jung Ho Kang and Cervelli hit back-to-back homers off Yankees lefty J.A. Happ. It was Cervelli's first home run of the spring and Kang's team-leading fourth. All of Kang's hits this spring have been homers.

• Left-hander Francisco Liriano, competing for a spot in the bullpen, walked all four batters he faced in the fourth inning on Sunday. Reliever Nick Burdi retired all four batters he faced. Dovydas Neverauskas struck out two in a clean seventh inning. Jesus Liranzo allowed a two-run homer in the eighth.

• Shortstop prospect Cole Tucker went 1-for-2 with a triple. He is 7-for-10 with two homers, a double and a triple over his last six games.

Up next
The Pirates will make the trip to Disney World on Monday to face the Braves at Champion Stadium. Right-hander Nick Kingham and lefty Steven Brault, two of the candidates for the final spot in Pittsburgh's rotation, are scheduled to pitch. Neverauskas is also expected to take the mound for the Pirates. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET. The audio broadcast will be available exclusively as a free webcast on Pirates.com.

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