Preview: Twins vs. Pirates

The National League wild-card race is tightening and the Pittsburgh Pirates are still hanging around.

After splitting a four-game series with former teammate Andrew McCutchen and the Giants in San Francisco, the Pirates went into their off-day on Monday just five games back of the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies for the two postseason berths, with three teams standing in between.

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They’ll try to close that gap Tuesday when they take on the Minnesota Twins in the opener of a two-game interleague series at Target Field behind right-hander Jameson Tallion, who notched his second complete game of the season his last time out, holding the Rockies to two runs despite giving up 10 hits and a walk in a 10-2 victory on Aug. 7 at Coors Field.

“I’ve watched 1,300 or 1,400 ballgames here and you don’t see a lot of complete games,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who was with the Rockies from 2002 to 2009. “I told him when he came off that it’s special. It doesn’t happen often.”

The only National League pitcher to throw two complete games this season, Tallion has held opponents to three runs or less in each of his last 13 starts. Since June 1, he’s 7-4 with a 2.95 ERA.

“I’m lucky in that I put (batters) on the ground a lot when I’m pitching right,” Taillon said after facing the Rockies. “That’s kind of my game when I’m going right. You just need to stay focused and execute the next pitch.”

Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli hopes to be back in the lineup for the series opener. He left the game Saturday after taking a foul tip to the face mask and wasn’t in the starting lineup Sunday, but he did appear as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning, striking out against Giants closer Will Smith.

“We’ll play it out and see how we go,” Hurdle said.

Cervelli didn’t report any dizziness or related issues after getting hit but after two stints on the disabled list this season with concussion-related issues, the Pirates are taking a cautious approach with the 32-year-old backstop.

“We’re going to continue to take as many precautionary measures as we can when he does take the field behind the plate and continue to be cautious as he does take foul balls off the mask or run into any other challenges,” assistant general manager Kevan Graves told a Pittsburgh radio station.

The Twins are juggling catchers these days, too. Bobby Wilson and Mitch Garver have been splitting time behind the plate since starter Jason Castro was lost to a torn meniscus in early May.

Garver, Minnesota’s ninth-round pick in the 2013 draft, has seen most of the action so far. He has appeared in 77 games this season, batting .261 with six homers, 26 RBIs and a .761 OPS but is his defensive game remains a work in progress.

Twins manager Paul Molitor acknowledged that he has given more time to Garver in order to help him develop that aspect of his game and likes what he sees so far.

“It’s been steady,” Molitor said. “It encompasses all areas of catching, from mindfulness of game-calling, blocking balls, catch-and-throw abilities, framing, and just the overall sense that my pitchers have gotten a lot more comfortable throwing with him as this season has gone on.”

Wilson’s playing time has been limited in large part because offensive struggles. He’s batting .165 this season, putting him on pace for a career low in seasons he has played at least 120 games.

“It’s worked out fairly well,” Molitor said. “It’s not easy to navigate a season with two guys who aren’t really labeled as everyday guys and try to find the best way to do that.”

Minnesota sends right-hander Jake Odorizzi to the mound for the series opener. His 4.50 ERA this season is the highest of his career and he’s tied for the team lead in 2018 with 18 home runs allowed.