Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cerving Notice

Francisco Cervelli has his smile back

A year ago Francisco Cervelli was not a happy man. He had nailed down the backup job to starting catcher Russell Martin and was ready to travel north with the team for the 2012 season. At least Cervelli thought he had nailed down the job. Two days before the start of the regular season the Yankees acquired catcher Chris Stewart from the San Francisco Giants for minor league reliever George Kontos.

In a matter of hours Cervelli had gone from riding high to riding throughout the International League...literally. The home field of the Scranton-Wilkes Barres Yankees was being renovated, every game played was, in effect, a road game.

Cervelli was angry, pouted, and got off to a bad start in the minors. He wouldn't return to the Major Leagues until the rosters expanded in September. He hit just .246 and slugged .316 for Scranton. It appeared his days in pinstripes were numbered.

The off-season changed all that. The Yankees decided to meet the league's $189MM salary ceiling to avoid the luxury tax for the 2014 season. Doing that meant letting Martin sign elsewhere as a free agent.  Cervelli came to camp refreshed and renewed, and with his head on straight.  Originally slated to play in the World Baseball Class (WBC), Cervelli changed his mind and opted to compete with Chris Stewart for the starting catching job on the Yankees.

At the conclusion of Spring Training, Joe Girardi wasn't sure how he would split up the time between his two backstops. Cervelli made the decision for him; he entered Saturday's play swinging a hot bat and has worked well with the pitching staff.  Yes, there's the occasional one or two hop throw into centerfield on a stolen bsae attempt, but to this point he has fans not caring that the Yankees didn't make much of an effort to keep Martin. (Who, oddly enough, enters Saturday's play just 8-45 on the season.)

Not known for power, Cervelli is already half way to his career high of four home runs. He hit a 9th inning home run against Arizona Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz Thursday night to send the game into extra innings. More impressive is his 1.012 OPS through 12 games, one of the highlights of which is he's drawn more walks (8) than he has struck out (5).  It's a small sample, but he's 3-4 with runners in scoring position.

Cervelli even played an inning at second base when the Yankees got in a tight jam. No matter where he is on the field, Cervelli has his smile and confidence back, and he knows not to take anything for granted.

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