Rookies help key win for injury-depleted Bucs

June 29th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- A year ago, , , and  were all in Double-A. During their time in Altoona, there was likely no shortage of conversations about rising through the system together and, in turn, making the Majors together. On Wednesday night, that quartet all took the field at PNC Park together for the first time as big leaguers. Given the state of affairs in Pittsburgh, it likely won’t be the last.

Davis, Gonzales, Triolo and Mlodzinski all had a hand in the Pirates’ 7-1 win over the Padres, a victory that gives Pittsburgh its first series win in more than two weeks. 

“Since [general manager Ben Cherington] got here, we’ve talked about the lifeblood of our organization is going to be our system,” manager Derek Shelton said. “We have a very young roster in terms of experience. For these guys to come up and contribute and do what they’re doing is extremely important for us.”

The Pirates haven’t gone this young entirely by choice. Dating back to Spring Training, the Pirates have been ravaged by injuries that have forced them to call upon their rookies.

In mid-June, No. 23 Pirates prospect Mlodzinski was called up when left-hander Rob Zastryzny hit the injured list. Last week, Gonzales (No. 6 prospect) was called up when Bryan Reynolds hit the injured list. Wednesday, Triolo (No. 16 prospect) was called up today when Ke’Bryan Hayes hit the injured list. Going further back, Luis Ortiz and Osvaldo Bido are both in the starting rotation due in large part to JT Brubaker, Vince Velasquez and prospect Mike Burrows each undergoing season-ending surgeries.

As things stand, 12 Pirates are on the injured list with the aforementioned Brubaker, Burrows (on the Minor League IL) and Velasquez out for the season. The Pirates need production wherever they can find it, and right now, they’re looking to the youth to provide.

“It’s the next-man-up mentality,” said Mitch Keller, who allowed one run across six innings. “We can’t be worried about who’s not here and who’s not available. We need to worry about who we have for that day. I think everyone is capable of stepping up and performing, and they’ve shown that in the past.”

The quartet of Davis, Gonzales, Mlodzinski and Triolo certainly stepped up and performed in the seventh inning.

In the top half of the frame, Mlodzinski struck out two batters and put a zero on the scoreboard, recording the first hold of his Major League career. In the bottom half of the frame, Davis, Gonzales and Triolo all kept the line moving in some capacity en route to a five-run inning. 

Gonzales began things with a single. Triolo, making his debut, reached base for the first time in his career by taking a sinker off his hand. After Josh Palacios drove in one run with a single that right fielder Fernando Tatis Jr. just missed and Connor Joe drove in two with a doink into center field, Davis, the Pirates' No. 2 prospect capped things off with a two-run single to right field.

Before the night was over, Triolo joined Davis and Gonzales in the hit column with a 101.5 mph single up the middle, the first of his career.

“I've seen Jared take a lot of swings in the cage, a lot of ground balls a lot of times in the Minor Leagues and know it goes much deeper than that,” Davis said. “There’s so much his family has put into this, so much coaches have, teammates have [put into this]. Seeing it all culminate in just getting to watch him have a normal at-bat, that's who you look for. You play for your teammates and they're your best friends. So moments like that, mean the world to all of us.”

Triolo’s first-career hit comes a day after Gonzales collected his first career hit, a high-arcing triple off the Clemente Wall, and home run, a 442-foot blast that hit the batter’s eye in center field. Davis and Gonzales both live in Bradenton, Fla. during the offseason, and following the win, Davis reminisced about the hours they spent together in the batting cage in anticipation of these types of moments.

“Nick and I live five minutes apart in the offseason, spent a lot of time working through stuff after the year didn't go the way we wanted to last season,” Davis said. “Seeing that moment in the big leagues, that's what we talked about every time in the cage.”

The Pirates might not consistently play five or more rookies on any given night as players come off the injured list, but in the short-term and long-term, the club is going to continue relying on its youth. Davis, Gonzales, Mlodzinski and Triolo have won together at different levels of the Minors. Now, they’ll be tasked with contributing to wins on the biggest stage of them all.