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Pirates’ Jacob Stallings poised for probable first start of season Sunday … finally | TribLIVE.com
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Pirates’ Jacob Stallings poised for probable first start of season Sunday … finally

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates' Jacob Stallings drives in the winning run during the 11th inning against the Nationals Friday, Sept. 23, 2016, at PNC Park.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings talks with pitcher Michael Feliz before the eighth inning against the Diamondbacks Saturday, June 23, 2018, at PNC Park.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings warms up the pitcher while Elias Diaz makes his way to the plate during a game against the Reds Saturday, June 16, 2018, at PNC Park.

Jacob Stallings lived the dream throughout most of June: he was a major leaguer.

If, perhaps, a bored one.

The catcher spent 16 of the past 22 days on the Pirates roster. But he has gotten only three MLB at-bats and played two innings behind the plate over that span. That figures to change Sunday, when Stallings likely will get the traditional day-game-after-night-game start that No. 2 catchers typically receive.

Nothing is official, of course, for the Pirates’ 4:10 p.m. first-pitch game in San Diego. But whenever Stallings starts, it will be a long time coming.

Stallings initially was recalled this season after starting catcher Francisco Cervelli absorbed a foul ball off his mask June 9. Stallings did not play over seven days and was sent back down after Cervelli was deemed healthy, only for him to go on the seven-day concussion disabled list five days later June 22, necessitating another Stallings recall.

In between, Stallings got two starts for Indianapolis. Since his most recent recall, Stallings played twice: a pinch-hitting appearance in the 13th inning of a June 22 loss to Arizona and two innings behind the plate while going 1 for 2 the next day.

“When I went back down to Triple-A for a couple games, I definitely felt not as comfortable in the box,” Stallings said last weekend.

“But it’s just one of those things, you got to be able to produce when your number is called.”

Stallings, the son of former Pitt basketball coach Kevin Stallings, has been producing more offensively in recent seasons since being known mostly as a defense-first catcher during his first four seasons after being drafted in the seventh round in 2012.

In two seasons of High-A, Double-A and Triple-A between 2012-16, his OPS was .656, .723, .681, .683 and .602 at Low-A. Since getting his first taste of the majors in 2016, though, Stallings has shown a capable bat.

“Jacob put down a to-do list starting about three years ago,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “There were some conversations about, ‘Do you want to be another catch-and-throw guy? Or do you want to be a guy that’s more than that?’ ”

Stallings went 5 for 7 over three late-season MLB games in 2016 and parlayed that into a .307 average and .789 OPS for Indianapolis in ’17. During five games for the Pirates last season, Stallings hit .357 with a .938 OPS, and his Triple-A stats this season (.289 average, .723 OPS) also reflect more than adequate production for a catcher.

Stallings traces his career uptick back to his initial MLB recall in June 2016. It was necessitated by an unlikely spate of injuries to several catchers higher up in the organization, but that didn’t diminish what he took from it.

“Just getting called up in 2016, that gave me a lot of confidence,” Stallings said, “and then getting called back up in September and having success, I think that was kind of the turning point for me. I figured out an approach for me and saw it have some success in the big leagues. And I have been pretty consistent ever since then, so it’s been a lot more enjoyable.”

Said Hurdle: “To his credit, he believed there was a better in himself than maybe some other people did. He’s worked very hard at becoming a better hitter.

“He just continues to gain traction and momentum and do things offensively. He’s become a silent leader with the staff, become a quiet leader in the clubhouse. The offensive part of it is real.”

A “veteran” of 10 MLB games heading into this season can be considered a clubhouse leader? Perhaps the coaching/leadership gene wore off on Stallings from his father.

“Part of it for me is I have played with a lot of these guys for so many years, and I came up with them in the minor leagues and … not know what makes them tick, but I just have that history with them,” Stallings said of his elevated status in the clubhouse.

“I just try to give guys confidence. I’ve been the guy who doesn’t have a lot of confidence at times, and it’s not a fun feeling. So I enjoy building guys up and just trying to talk to them. And have fun with them.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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