It's not a catcher issue. It's a Francisco Cervelli issue.
That's maybe the most maddening aspect of all the various -- and very real -- injuries that have befallen one of the Pirates' most important players, particularly those related to his head, the latest of which was being struck on the back of his helmet by the barrel of Joc Pederson’s broken bat Friday night in the 7-2 loss to the Dodgers at PNC Park.
Seriously, a backswing barreling up to the noggin.
"I know, right?" Cervelli told me Sunday morning. "It's crazy. I don't even know what to say anymore."
Shortly after our conversation, Cervelli was placed on Major League Baseball's seven-day concussion list, setting off three other moves: Catcher Jacob Stallings had his contract selected from Class AAA Indianapolis, utilityman Jose Osuna was recalled from Indianapolis, and infielder Jake Elmore was designated for assignment.
Elias Diaz was in the starting lineup for the Sunday series finale and, with a doubleheader Monday in Cincinnati, a second catcher was needed right away.
Much has been done to protect catchers from harm in recent years, most prominently the Buster Posey rule, as it's known, that has dramatically cut down on collisions at home plate. There also have been advancements in mask technology, and both Cervelli and Diaz have adjusted to the latest.
I asked Clint Hurdle if even more could be done.
"I think we've tried to be proactive, the way football's been proactive," Hurdle said of baseball as a whole. "You don't see this as a league-wide challenge. Unfortunately, in Francisco's case, it's been Francisco more than anybody else. But until you see it happening league-wide, where it's 10 or 15 catchers down ... unfortunately, he's been the outlier. The volume, the number of hits he's taken ... it's unfortunate."
As in, lousy luck.
Neal Huntington said a little later that the Pirates have discussed internally approaching MLB with a proposal to allow players to be examined through a concussion protocol, then allowed to return if they're cleared, as happens in the NFL and NHL. That, he said, would afford all concerned a clearer opportunity to diagnose the athlete's status rather than simply having the athletic trainer standing at home plate with stadium noise all around them.
Of Cervelli specifically, Huntington added that the Pirates have talked internally about ways to minimize Cervelli's risk, including a change of position.
"Every single time he takes a ball off the mask, you hold your breath," Huntington said. "We care about this man. We care about this person and want him to have a great post-playing career. That's part of it. Another is that you have to respect the player's wishes. Francisco has been adamant that he wants to continue to catch. I think he would be quite unhappy if we told him he was never going to catch for us again."
Cervelli's had six known concussions since 2011. He's 33. He knows the stories about other athletes suffering deep into their retirement days. He's done extensive research on his own.
"I'm going to be OK," Cervelli told me. "I know what this is about. I've been through it before. But it's frustrating. It's very frustrating."
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