Injury creates quandary with Pirates' plans at catcher


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BRADENTON, Fla. — Catcher Chris Stewart will seek a second opinion on a knee injury that will likely require surgery, the Pirates announced Monday, creating uncertainty regarding the team’s plans for the backup catcher spot.

Stewart will visit James Andrews, one of the leading sports orthopedists, this week to receive an evaluation on his right knee, which he hurt during a game March 12 against the Minnesota Twins. The Pirates called surgery “probable” in a news release.

The injury could mean a spot on the opening-day roster for Tony Sanchez, but the team also could choose to get a catcher from outside the organization.

Manager Clint Hurdle said he was not aware of a particular play during the game that caused Stewart’s injury.

“We asked him if he wanted to stretch out one more at-bat, his turn was coming up,” Hurdle said. “He said, ‘No, I think I’m good. I’m just a little tight.’ ”

Stewart went 0 for 2 with a flyout and lineout in the March 12 game. He also caught a runner stealing and fielded a grounder in front of home plate. He was replaced by a pinch-hitter after five innings, which is not unusual during spring training.

The Pirates acquired Stewart, 32, from the New York Yankees in December with the idea that Stewart could back up Russell Martin so that Sanchez could play every day at Class AAA Indianapolis. That scenario would pave the way for Sanchez to take over for Martin, who is a free agent after the 2014 season, as the starter in ’15.

Stewart detracts from the lineup on offense, posting a .584 on-base plus slugging percentage from 2011-13, but is an experienced catcher and strong defensive player. Sanchez, 25, who debuted last season and had 66 plate appearances in 22 games, is a better hitter, but the Pirates want him to continue to improve behind the plate.

If Sanchez made the active roster, the Pirates’ catching depth would further decrease. They also have non-roster invitees Nevin Ashley and Omir Santos in major league camp. Longtime organizational catcher Carlos Paulino, who has a very good arm but struggles at the plate, was recently reassigned to minor league camp.

“Basically, it’s the same question we had before we acquired Chris,” Hurdle said. “What’s the best scenario for Tony’s development, long range versus short range. If it’s a short-range down [time] for Chris, is Tony the guy? If it’s longer range, those are discussions we’ll have based on when we get more information.”

Hurdle said he would be comfortable with Sanchez on the active roster, “If that’s the way it spills out. Tony caught a bulk of ballgames for us in a playoff race last year, so I would have comfort with that.”

The Pirates have seen how injuries can challenge catching depth. After injuries to Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit in 2011, the Pirates used eight different catchers, and those injuries prompted a trade for Michael McKenry.

Organizations keep tabs on players capable of playing in the majors who might be blocked in their current organization, so the Pirates could inquire around the league. The problem is, surplus catchers capable of playing in the majors are hard to come by.

Game canceled

A line of strong thunderstorms forced the cancellation of the Pirates’ game Monday against the New York Yankees.

The pitchers scheduled to throw in the game pitched simulated games instead, throwing to hitters in the batting cage.

Gerrit Cole and Tony Watson pitched at Pirate City in minor league intrasquad games in the morning before the rain started. Cole walked four batters in five innings and allowed three runs against Class AAA hitters, and Watson worked three innings — a rarity for him — against Class A batters.


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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