NEW YORK (AP) — Francisco Cervelli caught on with a playoff contender, just as he hoped.
The first-place Atlanta Braves signed Cervelli to a one-year contract Saturday and immediately plugged the veteran catcher into the starting lineup against the New York Mets. After recovering from his latest concussion, it was his first game in the majors since May 25.
“The only way he’s going to get to know these guys is to catch ’em,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
About two hours before the game, Cervelli said he was still waiting for his catching equipment to arrive at Citi Field. But on the second pitch he saw in his first at-bat, he laced a two-run double into the left field corner for a 2-0 lead. He added a sharp single his next time up.
Cervelli, who has a long history of concussions, was granted his release Thursday by the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates after telling them he wanted to hook on with a big league team that had playing time to offer and a chance to reach the postseason. He gives the NL East leaders a proven replacement for injured catcher Brian McCann, sidelined earlier in the week by a sprained left knee.
“It’s amazing,” Cervelli said. “My only mission here is win. I’m wired that way.”
Atlanta will pay Cervelli $110,403, a prorated portion of the $555,000 major league minimum. That is offset against his $11.5 million salary in the final season of the $31 million, three-year contract with Pittsburgh that he was released from.
The 33-year-old Cervelli joined the Braves at Citi Field and batted seventh against Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler. Snitker said Cervelli will split playing time with Tyler Flowers behind the plate and likely remain with the club when McCann returns because by then rosters will have expanded in September.
“He’s got skills. He’s a good little catcher,” Snitker said. “While Mac’s out, he’s going to be nice little pairing with Tyler.”
Cervelli dealt with multiple concussions this season and batted .193 with one home run and five RBIs in 34 games for the Pirates. He recently completed a minor league rehab assignment that began Aug. 11 at Double-A Altoona in the Pittsburgh organization. He played one game there and then caught six games at Triple-A Indianapolis.
“I’m not a little kid anymore, so I kind of know exactly what I need and how many games,” Cervelli said. “I’ve been working so hard besides the game for a long time to get back at my best.”
Cervelli acknowledged that two months ago, he was a little jittery about catching again after his most recent concussion in May. A report suggested he didn’t plan to go back behind the plate, but Cervelli insisted he didn’t say that — someone else did.
After working out in the infield, he moved back to catcher in the minors. He said he was bored at other positions and threw away his infield glove.
“I’m not a baseball player. I’m a catcher,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 17 years and that’s all I’m going to do. And, I like to be behind the plate. It sounds crazy, but I like to get hit and do my thing. So, I’m here now.”
He said he quietly underwent a new therapy with a new doctor and is feeling good.
“I put everything I had,” said Cervelli, the Pirates’ opening day catcher each of the past five years.
Cervelli began the night a .269 career hitter with 36 home runs and 261 RBIs in 700 major league games. His .362 on-base percentage in 450 games with Pittsburgh was second among big league catchers during that span to San Francisco’s Buster Posey (.368).
To make roster room for Cervelli, the Braves optioned catcher Alex Jackson to Triple-A Gwinnett and transferred left-hander Grant Dayton to the 60-day injured list.
Cervelli, from Venezuela, spent the first seven years of his career with the New York Yankees and played in 42 games for the 2009 World Series champions.
“I feel like a lucky man,” he said. “Just the fact that I went to Triple-A and played baseball. It doesn’t matter what it is. I played there like a kid again, and now I feel more grateful just to get picked up by a team who is in first place and they like to win. That’s the whole idea.”
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports