Cervelli helps out at first base

By John Mehno

For the Mirror

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates got a new first baseman for Saturday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Francisco Cervelli started at first base for the first time since April 16, 2016. The assignment allowed manager Clint Hurdle to stack right-handed bats against lefty starter Austin Gomber and also spared Cervelli working behind the plate.

The latter is important because of the concussion issues that have put Cervelli’s future as a catcher in question.

Of course, Cervelli is far from a sure thing at first base even though he’s had some limited experience there in the major leagues.

Hurdle noted that both Pedro Alvarez and Aramis Ramirez had difficulty playing what some people mistakenly think is an “easy” position.

“With Ramirez, it didn’t work and we got him out of there,” Hurdle said. “It’s not as easy as some people think it is. Some guys make it look easy.

“Francisco shows all the actions you want to see. The hands and the feet work. He’s done it in the past a little bit, actually played some second base. The only way to find out is to get in a game and do it.”

Diaz came into the game with a .386 average against lefthanded pitching, which was the fourth-best mark in MLB.

Dickerson returns

Corey Dickerson came off the disabled list after 10 games, but was not in the starting lineup.

Dickerson went on the DL with a hamstring injury.

“It’s been kind of boring,” he said. “I’m glad to be back. It stunk being on the DL for the first time since 2015.”

Dickerson should be back in the starting lineup today when right-hander Jack Flaherty is scheduled to start.

He said he’s confident he has recovered fully after working with the training staff.

“I feel like I’m in a good place,” he said. “I wouldn’t be back if I couldn’t play the game the right way.”

With Dickerson’s return, utility player Chris Bostick was sent back to Class AAA Indianapolis.

Staying in the ‘pen

Left-hander Steven Brault, who was sent to Indianapolis on Friday, will continue to work out of the bullpen there.

“I don’t see the benefits of stretching him back out (to start),” Hurdle said. “We have (Nick) Kingham as a depth starter. We could really use an effective lefthanded reliever at the major league level right now.”

With Brault’s demotion, the only lefty in the Pirates’ bullpen is closer Felipe Vazquez.

Hurdle said Brault may pitch in every other game for Indianapolis.

Making the card

Hurdle said one the challenges in choosing a daily lineup is finding a mix that allows backup players to get an occasional start while making sure that regulars get a day off when needed.

David Freese has been one of the Pirates’ hot hitters lately, but Hurdle has seen diminishing returns when Freese plays too often.

“They have a lefthander (pitching) tonight, so David is in,” Hurdle said. “They have a righthander tomorrow so he won’t be. There’s a lefthander the first game in Colorado, and he’ll be back in again.”

In the past, Hurdle has used Freese too often. It got to a point where Freese told the manager he should play less.

“We’ve worked together, along with the training staff, about keeping him fresh, keeping him strong,” Hurdle said. “You can’t keep playing a guy because he’s hot, because eventually you’ll get him not hot.

Hurdle said he still hears complaints from people who wonder why players don’t play 162 games.

“Because they just don’t,” Hurdle said. “Nobody plays 162 games any more.”

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com