Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli giving more than expected at bat

By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 6 years ago

C Chris Stewart (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

Russell Martin, who?

Even after losing Martin in free agency last fall, the Pirates are in a pretty fortunate position with their catchers. So fortunate, it seems, that most Pirates fans probably don’t recognize Elias Diaz’s name. He’s the third-string catcher, a promising prospect brought up Sept. 1 and still patiently awaiting a chance to making his big-league debut. Point is, they don’t need him right now.

After Francisco Cervelli caught 13 innings Thursday, manager Clint Hurdle plugged backup Chris Stewart into the starting lineup Friday to catch Charlie Morton. Stewart went 3 for 4, picked off a runner and led the Pirates to a 6-3 win, their first against the Milwaukee Brewers since June 10.

“He helps all over the place,” Hurdle said of Stewart. “He's turned himself into a very professional major league player.”

“He knows what he does well, and he's a professional,” Morton added. “Happy to see that people are starting to notice, because he's been playing well for a long time.”

In the past two games, Stewart has raised his average from .275 to .294. He is batting .333 in 21 games at PNC Park this season, and the Pirates now have a 14-1 record in his 15 starts here.

Yeah, that’ll play for a backup.

And bringing up Martin’s name makes many differing emotions bubble to the surface. Pirates fans loved him, and the players did too. Still do. For two seasons in Pittsburgh, he hit for average and for power and steered a productive Pirates pitching staff.

He got his payday last October, signing with Toronto Blue Jays for five years and $82 million, and the Pirates moved forward by acquiring Cervelli and keeping Stewart as backup — with Tony Sanchez and Diaz waiting at Class AAA Indianapolis. The Pirates have slid back in the pack in stopping the running game, but they still are steady defensively, and Cervelli has been shown to be one of the best pitch-framers in the game.

And on offense, the area in which the Pirates were supposed to be taking a giant step backward this season?

In 2014, Pirates catchers hit .290/.383/.403/.786 with 26 doubles, 13 homers and 88 RBIs.

In 2015, Pirates catchers are hitting .302/.373/.400/.773 with 22 doubles, six homers and 50 RBIs with 22 games left.

The run production isn’t the same, but it wasn’t expected to be, either. Martin batted in the middle of the lineup, while Stewart and Cervelli usually claim either the No. 7 or 8 spot. Martin has a .237 average this season with 17 homers and 57 RBIs. Cervelli is batting .303 and has for the first time held together physically from end to (nearly) end in a season.

And the Pirates are paying next to nothing for it, comparatively. While Martin pulls in $7 million this season, Stewart is making $1,225,000, and Cervelli $987,500.

Read a story about A.J. Burnett and how the bat signal started springing up all over Pittsburgh Thursday night. Unlike most stories, this one involves Pittsburgh’s mayor, the CEOs of worldwide entertainment corporations, and a few local laser experts. Enjoy!

Pirates won’t got to a six-man rotation, but Hurdle won’t name his five yet.

Stephen J. Nesbitt: and on Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.