Diaz's long wait for Pirates debut finally ends

Rookie catcher called up Sept. 1, slotted behind Cervelli and Stewart

Diaz's long wait for Pirates debut finally ends

PITTSBURGH -- Elias Diaz had to reach the Major Leagues to finally stop playing. When the Bucs' No. 14 prospect got his first callup on Sept. 1 when rosters expanded, it was his first chance to catch his breath -- rather than catch pitchers -- in more than two years.

Two weeks into his big league "career," Diaz finally made his big-league debut late in Saturday night's 10-2 victory over the Brewers at PNC Park. It was a brief moment in the spotlight, but quite impressive.

Making an eighth-inning pinch-hit appearance, Diaz drove a 1-0 pitch from Corey Knebel to the warning track in center field. The drive was caught. Still, not bad for his first at-bat since Aug. 29.

But Diaz is still waiting to make his debut at his specialty, behind the plate.

"There's nothing I can do about it," said Diaz, smiling. "I've kept busy in the bullpen, early batting practice ... just watching."

And, maybe going just a little stir-crazy. This is the longest the cannon-armed 24-year-old has gone without playing since the start of the 2013 Minor League season, when he embarked on his journey into the Bucs' future plans.

Diaz has logged a total of 300 games in the interim, squatting through Class A Advanced Bradenton, Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis on the Pirates' chain, the 2013-14 seasons in his native Venezuelan Winter League, and the '14 Arizona Fall League.

Diaz's Major League orientation is proceeding in classic intern fashion.

"He has actually caught a lot of our starters in the bullpen," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's been out for early work, throwing to bases. When the opportunity presents itself, he'll just go out and get some experience. It'll be his chance to go out and breathe and play."

That opportunity will come either in an unanticipated marathon game that devours both Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, or once the Bucs' postseason fate is decided. When Diaz's chance arrives, Hurdle won't be hesitant to play him.

Stewart's great all-around game

"I received a multitude of reports [about him] during the season. We have a good feel for the overall tool set," Hurdle said. "He's only a couple of weeks removed from playing."

Touching all the bases

• First: Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage have nailed down a rotation through the first half of the Sept. 21-24 series in Colorado that takes advantage of six available starters to give everyone extra rest.

After Francisco Liriano faces Milwaukee in Sunday's series finale, it will be Gerrit Cole, J.A. Happ, A.J. Burnett and Charlie Morton against the Cubs on Sept. 15-17; Jeff Locke, Liriano and Cole in Los Angeles on Sept. 18-20; and Burnett and Happ in the first two games against the Rockies.

• Second: The record for most consecutive starts by rookie pitchers, broken by the Reds when their string reached 42, was set in 1902 ... by the Pirates.

• Third: In Wednesday night's 5-4 win in Cincinnati, Jung Ho Kang became the first Bucs rookie to hit a grand slam in a one-run win since May 11, 1956, when Danny Kravitz did it in walk-off style, 6-5 over the Phillies.

• Home: Starling Marte was a late scratch from Saturday's lineup, but it had nothing to do with the left-shoulder bruise that had kept him out Friday; he'd come down with a case of gastroenteritis.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.