Cervelli flourishing as full-time Bucs backstop

Catcher entered Friday leading all NL hitters with .364 average since May 1

Cervelli flourishing as full-time Bucs backstop

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh's pitchers consistently praise the way Francisco Cervelli calls a game and blocks balls in the dirt. By some advanced metrics, he has been the best pitch-framer in the Majors this season.

But Cervelli has also proven to be a valuable offensive weapon for the Pirates in his first season as a full-time starting catcher.

According to Fangraphs.com, Cervelli has been worth 1.5 Wins Above Replacement, second among Bucs hitters (Andrew McCutchen is first, at 1.8 WAR) and already a career high.

Cervelli led all National League players with a .364 average and ranked third with a .452 on-base percentage from May 1 through Thursday's off-day.

From May 10 to June 10, Cervelli posted a .400/.494/.493 batting line. In other words, he reached base safely in nearly half of his plate appearances over a full month.

"He's looking to maximize opportunities, give us the best at-bat he can to work us down to the next guy in the lineup," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's done a very nice job with that."

Cervelli has been a capable offensive catcher throughout his career, entering this season with a .278 average and .348 on-base percentage. But until this season, he was relegated to a backup role and frequently set back by injuries.

"I think he's always known what kind of hitter he's wanted to be. I think the freedom of health has helped that along. The continuity of play has helped that along," Hurdle said. "We're going to catch him. We're going to try not to overwork him, but use him as our main guy and have Chris [Stewart] complement him."

Around the horn
• The Pirates and Giants made a minor trade Thursday, with the Bucs' Triple-A Indianapolis club acquiring first baseman John Bowker from San Francisco's Sacramento affiliate.

Drafted by the Giants in 2004, Bowker was dealt to the Pirates at the 2010 Trade Deadline. He was sent back to San Francisco in August 2011.

• Hurdle seems to have found a combination he likes atop the Pirates' lineup. Gregory Polanco led off and Starling Marte hit second Friday for the fourth time in the Bucs' last seven games, while Josh Harrison was bumped down to fifth.

Hurdle likes the way Harrison hits with runners in scoring position, a preferred trait for a middle-of-the-order bat, but he's more intrigued by the Polanco-Marte-McCutchen sequence atop the order.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.