Pirates reinstate Stewart, option Stallings

Pirates reinstate Stewart, option Stallings

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates swapped out one catcher for another Sunday morning, reinstating veteran Chris Stewart from the 10-day disabled list as they optioned rookie Jacob Stallings to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Stewart has been on the disabled list since May 30 due to a left hamstring strain. He was eligible to return June 9, but he cleared the last necessary physical hurdle -- running the bases -- on Friday. He did not take part in a Minor League rehabilitation assignment, primarily because he has been able to catch and hit while on the shelf.

"He's ready, fit and available," manager Clint Hurdle said.

Stewart injured his hamstring while legging out a triple -- his second of the season, the second of his 11-year Major League career and likely his last. Stewart and Hurdle said triples are off the table for the 35-year-old Stewart. So Stewart, who hit .225/.295/.350 in 16 games before going on the disabled list, finished his rehab Friday by practicing his home run trot.

"Had to work on the doubles and home runs," Stewart said. "We've shut down the triples, eliminated that one. Home run trot, got to get used to that because I'm going to hit a lot of them now."

The Pirates are still carrying three catchers: Stewart, starter Francisco Cervelli and rookie Elias Diaz. That figures to change soon, however, as the Pirates are expected to rebalance their bench with another position player.

"I'm going to play it one day at a time," Hurdle said. "I'll need to get Stewart involved. He's told us he's ready to go, and I get it. We'll need to get him in a game … so we actually put eyes on him. Then what we see is what we see, and we can go from there and decide whether we hold. It won't be a long period of time; unless something drastic changes, we're not built for that."

Diaz, who started Sunday's series finale against the Cubs, is the only one of the Pirates' three catchers with Minor League options remaining. Pittsburgh's decision may not be as simple as sending him down and moving forward with the more experienced Cervelli and Stewart, however. Diaz has hit well and played characteristically strong defense behind the plate since being called up from Triple-A, making a strong argument to stay.

"It's awful hard to send down Diaz right now based on his performance, and I shared that with Chris as well," Hurdle said. "We'll see how this thing works itself out. Sometimes it takes care of itself; sometimes it doesn't."

Cervelli is in the first season of a three-year, $31 million contract extension he signed last May. Stewart is in the final guaranteed season of his two-year, $3 million deal; the veteran has a $1.5 million club option for '18 with a $250,000 buyout.

The Pirates must decide whether Diaz will benefit from playing every day in Triple-A or if he's best served learning in the Majors.

"He's still going to benefit from playing regularly, but he also is benefitting from being around a Major League environment and seeing hitters adjust at the Major League level," general manager Neal Huntington said. "So there is some benefit for him."

Around the horn
• Barring any postponed and rescheduled games, Starling Marte will be eligible to return from his 80-game suspension July 18, a month from Sunday. Huntington said the Pirates will continue to put Marte in simulated-game situations at their Pirate City complex in Bradenton, Fla.

Fifteen days before his suspension ends, Marte can begin a Minor League rehab assignment, likely against upper-level competition in Double-A or Triple-A.

• Top prospect Austin Meadows was briefly sidelined in Triple-A Indianapolis after being hit in the hand by a pitch. Meadows returned to Indianapolis' lineup on Sunday, playing center field.

• Top pitching prospect Mitch Keller (back tightness) is scheduled to make a rehab start Monday for short-season Class A West Virginia in Morgantown.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.