Cervelli working way back

07/05/18 Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski / Francisco Cervelli reacts after striking out swinging for his 1st at-bat.

Francisco Cervelli was just happy to be back playing baseball Thursday night after missing a couple of weeks because of a concussion.

“I feel good because I’m playing and I’m able to be on a baseball field,” the Pirates catcher said after his first rehab game with the Curve. “That’s the first step. I know (today) is going to a better day, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Cervelli was the designated hitter, batted third and went 0-for-3 with two walks and two strikeouts in Altoona’s 8-2 loss to Trenton before 3,680 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field. The Curve’s depleted pitching staff struggled early once again, falling behind 5-0 after two innings, and that was pretty much the ballgame.

The good news, though, was that Cervelli had no issues in his first game back from a concussion that has kept him out of the Pirates’ lineup since June 21. The plan is for him to DH again tonight, and he should be able to return to the Bucs without catching a game for the Curve, as long as no concussion symptoms return.

“I just need to hit because I was having problems to see the ball, and I need to get back to that,” Cervelli said.

This is the fourth time in his career that the 32-year-old Cervelli has suffered a concussion. This latest one, reports out of Pittsburgh said, wasn’t a result of one big hit to the head, but rather a cumulative effect of several hits over time.

“I got hit probably one week every day in the mask, and the one in the jaw was the hardest one,” Cervelli said.

It can be difficult to see progress during recovery from a concussion because it’s all really about how the player feels each day.

“It’s crazy,” Cervelli said. “Some days it’s weird, man. You feel like you’re hung over or something like that. … Sometimes you think you’re ready (to come back) and you have post-concussion symptoms, and that’s what happened.

“I started feeling bad, I wasn’t playing the way I was supposed to, and that’s not fair for my team and not fair for me and the fans, either. So I’d rather step away and recover 100 percent and come back and give everything I’ve got.”

Now, though, Cervelli said the symptoms are “in the past.”

“I’ve been really good for more than a week, so it’s time to play baseball,” he said.

Cervelli understands the danger of concussions because he’s dealt with several of them in his career. But he said, “I love this game. I’m not going to stop playing because of this.”

He went on to add, “We’ve got good doctors, they do so many things to keep me on the field and also be good after baseball. That’s something that is important.”

Trusting that the doctors have his best interests in mind also is important.

“They know more than I do, and I’ve got to trust them,” Cervelli said. “Those guys have been amazing with me. I’ve got a good group of people, they’ve been helping me and we’re on top of this, so it’s going to be fine.”

Comparing this concussion to his previous ones, the catcher said, “They’re all different.”

“This one, I just needed to be out of stress and try to relax and you know you’re going to get better,” he added. “I’ve been lucky. Every time that I’ve been down I’m able to recover, stand up and keep playing hard. So I don’t think it’s going to be any different now. So let’s do it.”

Curve manager Michael Ryan said he missed about 14 days once during his playing career after suffering a concussion. He’s also friends with former Twin and AL MVP Justin Morneau, who suffered a nasty concussion in 2010 that kept him out of action a long time and impacted his performance for close to two years.

“The symptoms tell you everything,” Ryan said of concussions. “The thing is with the studies now, it’s just how everybody reacts different to it. You take an MMA fighter, they can handle it a little bit better than maybe a normal person because they’re used to it. It’s scary what could happen if you come back too quick in the future. We’re talking about human beings here, and there’s life after baseball.”

Cervelli should be back up with the Pirates in a matter of days. He called PNG Field “beautiful” and was treated to his usual “That’s Amore” walk-up song, along with one extremely zealous fan who kept loudly spelling out the catcher’s name.

The Pirates have had a great situation at catcher this season, with Cervelli and backup Elias Diaz both performing well. Combined they have one of the highest OPS figures in baseball for catchers.

“It’s amazing, man, to see Diaz,” Cervelli said. “It’s not a secret that this guy can do it. He’s getting a lot of opportunities right now, he’s showing everybody what he can do, so it’s amazing. Probably the best partner I’ve ever had. We help each other a lot. This guy is going to be good.”

Cervelli has batted .257 with nine homers, 36 RBIs and an .876 OPS for the Pirates, and the struggling club that has dropped to six games below .500 can certainly use his production.

“I’m coming back, and I want to help to win games,” Cervelli said. “That’s all I want.”

SUBHD: Game recap

Key player: RF Devyn Bolasky went 4-for-4 with an RBI and two runs for Trenton.

Key play: The Thunder scored three runs in the first off RHP Bret Helton (3-4), who lasted just 1 1/3 innings in a spot start. RHP Dillon Tate (5-2) held the Curve to one run over five innings.

Key stat: The Curve have lost three in a row and have dropped into third place in the Western Division, behind Akron and Harrisburg.

SUBHD: How they scored

Top 1st: Holder doubled, scored on Amburgey double (0-1); Bolasky walked, scored on Fleming sacrifice fly (0-2); Katoh single scored Amburgey (0-3).

Top 2nd: Hendrix singled, scored on Holder single (0-4); Alvarez doubled, scored on Bolasky single (0-5).

Bottom 2nd: Kelley singled, scored on Tucker sacrifice fly (1-5).

Top 4th: Alvarez singled, Saez singled, both scored on Amburgey single (1-7); Bolasky singled, scored on Hightower wild pitch (1-8).

Bottom 7th: Hayes singled, scored on Kelley bases-loaded walk (2-8).

Next stop

Tonight: Trenton at Altoona, 7 p.m.

Pitchers: Curve LHP Taylor Hearn (3-5, 3.50) vs. Thunder RHP Michael King (2-1, 1.91)

Record: 42-39

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