New Pirates catcher Pérez learning his pitchers on the fly

Sports

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Roberto Pérez has some work to do — and not much time.

Pérez is learning a new pitching staff after he agreed to a $5 million, one-year contract with Pittsburgh on Dec. 1. He is replacing Jacob Stallings, who won the NL Gold Glove last season before being traded to Miami over the winter.

The Pirates held a light workout Monday, their first of the spring, and opening day is set for April 7 after the start of camp was delayed by the 99-day lockout. That gives Pérez a little more than three weeks to develop a rapport with the pitchers.

“I could watch video all day long, but I think catching them live, I want to know what the ball’s doing, how the ball moves and stuff like that,” Pérez said. “I’d rather catch it live in the bullpen and sides and stuff like that than watch video. I told the staff here, I want to catch everybody, a different guy every day, so I can get used to them very quickly.”

Pérez, 33, joins the rebuilding Pirates after spending his first eight seasons with Cleveland.

Though he is a .206 career hitter and batted just .149 during an injury-marred 2021, Pérez won the AL Gold Glove in 2019 and 2020. The Pirates are hoping he can help develop a young staff that struggled mightily a year ago with a 5.08 ERA.

Pérez said it was a different feeling reporting to spring training in Florida after all those years working out at Cleveland’s facility in Arizona.

“I have a lot of great memories from my time with Cleveland and had a great opportunity there,” he said. “I’m thankful for that but I’m also excited to be here. I like the atmosphere so far. It’s chill.”

Pérez wasn’t the only Pirates player excited about finally getting on the field.

Reliever David Bednar, who is from the Pittsburgh area, is looking to build on a strong rookie season in which he had a 2.23 ERA in 61 games. He was one of the few bright spots on a team that finished 61-101 and last in the NL Central for a third straight year.

“Just ecstatic to be back in some warm weather,” Bednar said. “Finally getting to throw off a dirt mound and play catch outside is just awesome. More so just to be around the coaching staff and guys and everyone like that. Just good to be back.”

The lockout talks between the owners and players were acrimonious at times, and it seemed as if the work stoppage could stretch past the scheduled start of the season.

Anthony Alford, who is competing to be the starting right fielder, said the wait reminded him of 2020 when the MLB season did not begin until late July because of the pandemic.

“You can get very mentally exhausted,” Alford said. “You could be ready to hit the field with your conditioning and everything that you’re doing with your work and not get on the field until two or three months later. We knew that was a possibility. It was tough, but we had to stay ready as best as we could.”

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