By JED WEISBERGER
PHILADELPHIA – Francisco Cervelli, once a Yankee (2008-13), now sits in the clubhouse of the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates, often talking with the team’s pitchers.
Starters Jameson Taillon and Ivan Nova, a former Yankees teammate, stop by and exchange a few words. Relievers Michael Feliz and Felipe Vazquez engage in conversation. Starter Chad Kuhl asks for advice.
“The pitchers are my guys,’’ said the 32-year-old Cervelli, a native of Valencia, Venezuela – his dad, Manuel, was an Italian immigrant, his mom, Darmelis, Venezuelan – and a man who is proud of his heritage. He played for Italy in both the 2009 and 2017 World Baseball Classics.
“It’s my job to protect the pitchers,’’ Cervelli added. “It’s my job to guide them and help them with the hitters. I have to make sure they have the advantage.’’
So far, things seem to be clicking for the Pirates’ staff with Cervelli behind the plate, as it leads the majors with seven shutouts entering play May 17.
He is respected as a leader in the clubhouse. He, along with Milwaukee outfielder Hernan Perez, have spearheaded efforts to aid their home country, and have gotten rightful credit for it.
“It’s just so sad to see the struggles going on there,’’ said Cervelli, who, presently resides in Tampa.
Cervelli, when he was with the Yankees, suffered a fractured wrist in Spring Training in 2009 when infielder Elliott Johnson, trying to impress the Tampa Bay Rays, collided with him at home plate.
There were concussions in 2010, both in winter ball and after being hit the head in Spring Training, and a fractured right hand in 2013 after being hit by foul tip of the bat of then-Toronto outfielder Rajai Davis April 26 after winning the Yankees’ starting catching job,
That August, after he got mixed up with the Biogenesis Scandal, he served a 50-game suspension. A hamstring injury and cluster migraines limited him to 49 games in 2014, in which he did bat .301 (44-for-146). Then, Nov. 12, he was traded to the Pirates for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson.
“It was good for me,’’ said Cervelli, who stepped in as the Pirates’ starting catcher in 2015 and registered a WAR of 3.8. “I have certainly enjoyed contributing where I can here.’’
Last season, after batting just .249 (66-for-265) in 81 games – partially due to a broken hamate bone in his left hand – he changed his stance and approach at the plate to better his offensive game.
“I want to stay on the field, and I always believe I can play better,’’ said Cervelli. “You can’t take anything for granted.’’
Heading into a four-game series with San Diego May 17, the Pirates were 25-17 and Cervelli was batting .302 (32-for-106) with six homers and 24 RBIs).
“We have a good team in here,’’ said Cervelli. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to start like this, but it doesn’t bother us.
“All we care about and believe in are the guys in this clubhouse. We have some talented players who will battle and win some games. I know it.’’
So far, neither the Pirates nor Cervelli have disappointed.