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Pirates’ Francisco Cervelli plays error-free in start at first base

August 12, 2018
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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli works out at first base during batting practice before a game against the Cardinals Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018, at PNC Park. Cervelli started at first base for the first time since 2016.

For the second time in four seasons with the team and the first time in more than two years, Francisco Cervelli is in the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup starting at first base.

The catcher batted fifth for Saturday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Using teammate David Freese’s first-base mitt, Cervelli handled all 10 putouts he was presented with. He also was the only Pirates player with two hits.

“My mentality right now is win games,” Cervelli said. “Anything I can do to help, if I can help by playing another position I will do it. Personally I think I can do more catching. That’s what I love to do. But like I say, if they need me at short or in the outfield, I’ll do it.”

Cervelli’s only other start at any position other than catcher or designated hitter since joining the Pirates before the 2015 season came in the first game of a doubleheader April 20, 2016, at San Diego. Cervelli handled all five of his chances cleanly in an 8-2 loss.

Three days earlier, Cervelli played the ninth inning of a game at first base; he also made five starts at first base for the New York Yankees in 2014.

Cervelli, who has 599 career MLB appearances at catcher, had been spotted taking grounders at first at various times over the past two months. Manager Clint Hurdle repeatedly explained it as a way for Cervelli and the team to have more position flexibility.

Cervelli has had two stints in the concussion disabled list over the past six weeks. He likewise twice was placed on the concussion disabled list in June 2017. Cervelli, like all catchers, has absorbed foul balls off of his mask.

Cervelli has at least one RBI in each of his past four games and is hitting .368 over the seven games of the current homestand. His season OPS of .847 ranks third on the team.

Elias Diaz has asserted himself as a viable major league catcher in his first full MLB season at age 27. Diaz is hitting .286/.335/.450 with a .785 OPS and seven home runs.

By contrast, regular first baseman Josh Bell has a .749 OPS and third baseman Colin Moran a .724 OPS (David Freese has been a backup all season at third and first). Jose Osuna is the most natural backup first baseman, but he is hitting .169 with a .550 OPS.

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