In Pittsburgh, Pirates overhaul is gaining momentum day by day

PITSBURG (AP) – Oneil Cruz unwrapped the No. 15 jersey, hugged the shoulders of his skeleton, turned his hat back and then smiled that it did not need translation.

One of the biggest pieces – literally and figuratively – of the revival that Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Ben Cherington has methodically orchestrated since taking office in November 2019 looked as good as it was advertised in its 2022 debut.

The toughest throw by any major league player this season. The strongest hit ball and the fastest sprint around the bases by a Pirate in 66 games, also a crazy hit that led to three laps and ended with Cruz laughing almost as he went from second to third.

The fact that he was thrown out trying to make a double on a three-pointer did not matter. Until then, the 23-year-old was a trend on Twitter as “Cruuuuuz” screams echoed in a park that often resembled a library when closed for most of the last half decade.

These days may be numbered, even if the final product that Cherington has undertaken to deliver to Pittsburgh remains far away.

The Pirates are well under 0,500 weeks before the All-Star break and are struggling to get the PNC Park full by a third most nights. Many of the prospects that Cherington created or acquired during his 30-month tenure – some of them in transactions that sent popular and proven veterans elsewhere into moves that angered and alienated a fan desperate for something or still believing – . .

Some, however, seemingly came to stay. Cruz wears No. 15 now, unlike last fall, when he wore No. 61 in a short two-game cameo last fall. Add to that the signing of third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes for an eight-year extension and the unexpected jolt from outfielder Jack Suwinski – who made the double-A jump in late April as an emergency supplement and makes a fascinating assumption that he does not must never return – and there is tangible evidence that Cherington’s top-down reform is gaining momentum.

“Sometimes (our staff decisions were) frustrating for people and I understand that,” said Pirates director Derek Shelton. “It’s difficult. We are stuck in our process and in the long run we will see the benefits from it.”

The long-awaited Triple-A Cruz promotion is one of the most popular Pirates hope for a steady influx of young talent next season, though pitcher Quinn Priester, infielder Nick Gonzalez and catcher Henry Davis – all first round options – not too close to touching the Roberto Clemente sign above the staircase leading to the home dugout.

Until they arrive, the franchise may no longer need to rely on the nostalgia and beauty of its space to bring people in. The days when the most popular jerseys in the stands a given night are past the Hall of Famers (Clemente, Willie Stargell) could be numbered.

Cherrington is optimistic but cautious. The farm system is loaded and some of the players it has brought in – Suwinski and his MLB rookie leading the 11 home runs – are starting to have an impact. However, Cherington has been in the game long enough to know that there is no straight line to success.

“There will be twists and turns, left and right turns,” Cherington said. “Over time, we must look at this arc in a positive direction towards more victories. “(We are) sure it will happen.”

If nothing else, Cherington is close to phasing out the “placeholder” approach that followed at a major category level during his first three seasons. Veterans such as first-team Yoshi Tsutsugo, outfielder Jake Marisnick and Josh VanMeter – all with one-year contracts – are returning from injury. There is no definitive plan for how the Pirates plan to handle their possible return.

There is a case for the extreme player Bligh Madris, who had three hits in his debut in the big league on Monday, to return to the minors for more seasoning. It seems equally likely that the Pirates let the kids play instead of going with more established players who will not be there when the club window opens to become a NL Central nominee.

This window is still closed, for now, anyway, with a sixth lost season in seven years most likely in the future. But the youth movement brings hope.

During a game last week, 25-year-old Hayes, who has signed for the rest of the decade, realized he was the second longest-serving pirate in the lineup.

“We have a lot of young kids, a lot of kids learning,” Hayes said. “We have wonderful things being prepared here.”

Minutes later, with the chorus of the club song “We Can Fly So High” echoing in an almost empty club, Hayes grabbed his glove and disappeared into a future he had long promised.


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