Elias Diaz caught seven innings in today’s Spring Training game, continuing to get a look from the Pittsburgh Pirates and from manager Clint Hurdle. Diaz is unlikely to crack the Opening Day roster, since the current catching combo of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart have the catching roles locked down. But Diaz is impressing in his limited time.
“We like what we’ve seen,” Hurdle said after the game. “He’s done nothing but continue to do well since he’s been here. He’s catching well. We had no qualms matching him up with A.J. today. A.J. is confident, going to throw his game, call his pitches, but as far as a kid handling him, working with him, no problem for Diaz.”
Spring Training stats should be taken with a grain of salt, so the fact that Diaz has gone 5-for-10 with a homer isn’t as big as it sounds. The more impressive thing would be the tools on display, specifically his defense, which has always been his biggest strength.
“The throw tool has changed a couple of games for us already,” Hurdle said. “The bat has shown up. The at-bats have been clean. The work has been good. He continues to give us a lot of reason to think that he’s going to be able to impact our club in the future as well.”
When I talked with Diaz at the start of Spring Training, he said that the arm was the best part of his defense. The defense, overall, has been a strong point for some time. Last year the bat finally caught up to the defense, raising the question as to whether he could be a starting catcher in the majors one day. So do the Pirates think he has that upside?
“We do. Absolutely,” Hurdle said.
Kingham Will Be a Mid-Season Depth Option For the Pirates in 2015
Nick Kingham had another good outing today, further impressing Hurdle in his time in big league camp. Prior to this year, Hurdle has talked with people in the organization about Kingham, and has watched video tape. He said the next part was wanting to put his eyes on a guy.
“You want to watch him in workouts…in the clubhouse…on the field…compete,” Hurdle said. “He’s had the opportunity to go out and pitch some innings now. He’s handling himself well. He’s made pitches. He’s hit the glove. Followed the glove well. And he’s had good poise, he’s had good rhythm.”
Kingham looks to be in the plans as a mid-season option for the starting rotation when the Pirates need depth. Hurdle confirmed that he wouldn’t be an early option.
“He’s one of the guys that will be down the list,” Hurdle said, while mentioning Casey Sadler and Clayton Richard as early season options. He also mentioned Radhames Liz, and said the club was stretching him out to be a starter.
“We’re in no urgency,” Hurdle said on Kingham’s eventual promotion. “This man came from Double-A to spend some time in Triple-A, and he was able to build some momentum from last season. I believe that some of that has carried in here. We want to continue to make sure that he continues to grow, and gets himself in a very competitive spot when his time comes for him to arrive.”
Burnett Will Use the Changeup More in 2015
A.J. Burnett made his second start of the Spring today. He looked good through two innings, then struggled in the third, before being lifted for a reliever. His focus the last time out was on commanding the fastball. This time around, he threw the changeup a bit more, which will apparently be a trend this year.
“I’m working on it to get better. It’s a pitch that I want to use [more] this year,” Burnett said.
He noted that the pitch could come in handy when his curveball is off, or if his fastball command isn’t there on a specific day. He also mentioned that he has been stubborn with using the pitch in the past. He threw the pitch 6.1% of the time in 2013, and 7.5% of the time in 2014 with the Phillies. The usage last year, despite the increase, ranked 54th out of 87 qualified starters in changeup usage. The biggest reason for the increase this year might be due to his age.
“When I was younger, I threw harder and could get away with mistakes behind in the count,” Burnett said. “It’s just a pitch that I’ve never bought into…always sinker in, sinker away, and the hook.”
**Hurdle on Arquimedes Caminero: “He’s opened eyes in his first outing. The velocity gets your attention, but he needs to throw strikes. He’s had velocity since he’s been pitching. He’s thrown strikes. He threw strikes in Tampa the other night. He’s been following that up.”
**Hurdle on Blake Wood: “Blake Wood is another guy that’s come in and showed plus-plus velocity, and thrown strikes. That’s always going to get anyone’s attention.”
**Sean Rodriguez will be a super utility player this year, and apparently that could include every position but pitching and catching. “He covers seven positions,” Hurdle said. “In my mind, center field is not a place that I’d be uncomfortable sending him.”
**Hurdle talked about the performance of the team early in camp, noting that they’ve only had two errors in ten games, and that even on their worst pitching day, they only gave up five runs.
“We’re doing a lot of things well. We just need to continue to work harder and get a little bit better everyday.”