This isn’t about the middle game of a series against the Cardinals in the middle of August.
This isn’t about what’s happened to this point in the baseball season, either.
No, this is about getting ready for the Wild Card Game.
This is about getting ready for the playoffs.
This is about getting ready for games that really, really, really matter as August will soon turn to September and the season will soon turn to the postseason.
So when Pirates ace (yes, he’s the ace) right-hander Gerrit Cole takes the mound in St. Louis on Wednesday night and looks in for the signs against the Cardinals, he will be looking in at a crouching Francisco Cervelli, not the crouching Chris Stewart who had become his customary backstop.
Man, has this story spiraled into something that is overblown; has it gotten way too much play.
Because here’s the real crux of everything as the Pirates now have about 50 games left in the regular season: They must trot out the best lineup each night if they want to have any semblance of a chance at catching the Cardinals and the best chance at holding off the Cubs for the top Wild Card spot.
What’s that all mean? It means Cervelli (simply a better player than Stewart) must catch as many games as possible no matter if Cole, Charlie Morton, Charlie Chaplin, Cole Porter, Morton Downey Jr., Jelly Roll Morton, Nat King Cole, Cole Trickle or Oliver P. Morton is pitching for the Pirates that night.
That’s it, Fort Pitt. Cervelli is the better player and it is no knock on Chris Stewart who has been a marvelous backup and served the Pirates more-than-admirably. But it’s crunch time now and you need to live and die with your best guys.
Stewart has a place on this team, one that is best suited as a guy who gets a start on Sundays, day-after-night situations, on getaway days and if Cervelli gets a bit dinged up. Other than that, Cervelli (hitting .303 overall and .392 in his last 15 games) needs to play.
It’s still seemingly somewhat of a mystery how Stewart — again a wonderful backup — came to be Cole’s personal catcher throughout much of this season, catching 18 games Cole has started to just four times Cervelli has been back there.
But it seems no more; and it’s a good move by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle as he realizes he must trot his best guys out there, not yield to Stewart who is hitting a commendable yet not-up-to-Cervelli’s-level .286.
Former Pirates pitcher and current broadcaster Bob Walk understands it’s time to break the routine, but is still a bit baffled how it all came to be in the first place.
“When your catcher is a big part of your offense, what happens when you get into the games that you really must win?” Walk asked on The Fan Morning Show Wednesday morning. “Then you’re going to have to make a change from something you’ve been doing all year. I have never really liked the idea. … another side of the coin, now Cole is going to have someone back there who he hasn’t really worked with at all.”
The whole idea of having a “personal catcher” is one that leaves Walk baffled.
“It makes no sense, I think it’s silly and I just don’t get it,” Walk said. “A lot of organizations believe in those sort of things but I just don’t believe in that … I didn’t really care who was back there catching me as long as they were competent about keeping the ball from hitting the umpire then I was happy. I wanted a bat back there.”
Seems like Hurdle is warming to this idea now — now that there is starting to be a heightened importance on these games. And with it, we should see a lot of Cervelli, no matter who is pitching.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.