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Pirates notebook: Stewart’s backup role redefined

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The Mets' Yoenis Cespedes (52) heads to the dugout after striking out as Pirates catcher Chris Stewart gestures toward pitcher J.A. Happ during the third inning Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in New York.

NEW YORK — Chris Stewart, counted on to catch every one of Gerrit Cole’s starts from early May to early August, likely will spend the rest of the regular season flashing signals to other Pirates pitchers.

A battery of Cole and Francisco Cervelli on Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals snapped a streak of 16 consecutive Cole-Stewart pairings.

And manager Clint Hurdle said there’s no plan to realign Stewart’s start schedule with the star right-hander.

Stewart caught for left-hander J.A. Happ on Friday night, marking just the third time since the start of July that he served as the backstop for someone other than Cole.

“Basically, we’re going to look for opportunities for Stewart to potentially give us a hand in some different areas,” Hurdle said.

Stewart shrugged when asked about the end of his string of starts as Cole’s catcher. He’s open to a different calling than his role as go-to catcher of the Pirates’ young ace.

“It’s a different set of eyes,” Stewart said. “It’s a different process of going about getting guys to do certain things. It’s just a refresher course back there with different guys. Possibly doing some different things and seeing if they’ll work.”

He has caught Francisco Liriano just three times this season. His track record is even more limited with Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton, each of whom started with Stewart behind the plate once.

“I’m familiar with everybody, so it’s not like I’m behind the 8-ball,” Stewart said. “I catch their bullpens in between starts.

“I’m looking forward to trying to get guys back on track, get them back to where they need to be strongest and where they can help this club.”

Restoring runner control

More than a month has passed since the Pirates last caught a runner stealing.

Hurdle holds his pitchers responsible for brazen baserunning by opponents, who had his 33 consecutive steals against the Pirates entering Friday. A combination of better pickoff moves and faster pitching tempo are necessary.

“As hard as these catchers are working by blocking balls and defending, we need to give them better opportunities to throw,” Hurdle said. “Because a lot of these (steals) are uncontested.”

The Pirates entered Friday’s game with a league-high 103 steals allowed, and their caught-stealing percentage of 23 percent was tied for fifth worst.

A theory offered by Hurdle about the caught-stealing drought: Pitchers, when seeing less success on the mound as the Pirates have since the All-Star break, become wrapped up in who’s at the plate.

“They’re worried about their pitches more than they’re worried about the (runner-control) program,” Hurdle said.

Marte still out

Travis Ishikawa started Friday’s game in place of left fielder Starling Marte, whose bruised left hand kept him on the bench for a second straight night.

Marte said his injury has improved since he suffered the injury Wednesday. Marte entered Friday night’s game in the 10th inning as a pinch-runner for Stewart, who led off the inning with a single. He later scored on a Gregory Polanco single.

No rush

Jordy Mercer (left knee) and Josh Harrison (left thumb) made rehab starts with Triple-A Indianapolis for a second time Thursday and again handled the physical demands of their positions. Hurdle said Harrison made a diving stop, and Mercer ably tolerated a quick pivot-and-throw play.

But Hurdle said there’s no official plan to expedite their return to the Pirates.

“We’re just letting them play,” Hurdle said. “We’ve scripted something out that we’re going to keep in our own pocket, because anytime we get it out and we add or subtract to it, it throws off a fire alarm somewhere along the way, and there’s no need for that.”

Rob Scahill (right forearm) threw a bullpen session with Indianapolis.

A.J. Burnett (right elbow), with the team in New York, played catch with Jeff Locke from about 100 feet Friday. He has yet to try throwing off a mound, Hurdle said.

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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