March 04, 2017

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) Before he broke his hand while taking a swing last June, Francisco Cervelli already had been on the disabled list at least a half-dozen times. That didn't make it any easier for the Pittsburgh Pirates catcher to accept having to sit out a big chunk of the season.

Cervelli missed five weeks after having surgery to repair the hook of his hamate bone. Even after the injury healed, he had to play though lingering pain until being shut down in the final week of the season.

''It was embarrassing because I take this job seriously,'' Cervelli said. ''That's the way I'm wired. The good thing is, those moments never get me down.''

Even for a catcher, Cervelli plays a very physical style of defense, so he is frequently nicked by foul tips and errant pitches. With the New York Yankees in the minors and majors from 2003 to 2014, Cervelli endured sprained knees; fractures to his right wrist, left foot and right hand; a Grade 2 hamstring strain; a concussion; and cluster headaches.

''I don't want to make excuses,'' Cervelli said. ''I want to make things happen.''

This spring, however, Cervelli quickly succumbed to another mishap. Right foot discomfort caused him to sit out two days of workouts near the start of training camp.

A new insole in Cervelli's right shoe has eased his foot pain, but he has played in just two of the Pirates' first seven Grapefruit League games.

Even with Cervelli mostly out of action, backup Chris Stewart has not gotten any playing time in the spring games. Stewart, 35, is taking it slow after having surgery in September to repair meniscus and cartilage in his knee.

''I feel 100 percent, but we're going to be smart about spring training and not try to overload it,'' Stewart said. ''I'll get my work in, the things I need done, and pretty much (do) nothing more. If something would happen where (Cervelli) is not ready to go on day one, I've got to be ready to fill in.''

Cervelli will be in camp with the Pirates through Sunday, then he'll join Italy's team for the World Baseball Classic.

Although he is a native of Venezuela, Cervelli, who also played for Team Italy in the 2009 WBC, was eagerly accepted when asked to represent his father's homeland.

''It was an honor to be asked to play, so I did not want to miss it,'' Cervelli said. He's been going full-tilt in his workouts, even on days when his name is not in the lineup.

''He's set now - he's got his contract - but he's still working hard,'' pitcher Ivan Nova said.'' That's good to see. His discipline is unbelievable.''

Last May, Cervelli signed a three-year, $31 million contract extension. He hit .264 with 33 RBIs in 101 games last season.

He'll turn 31 years old on Monday, and wants to play another six to eight years and retire as a Pirate.

''I won't stop until I get where I want to be,'' Cervelli said. ''I've got my goals and personal things, because I think you can be selfish and a team player at the same time, as long as you work, improve and want to get better.''

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