Pirates outfielder Jared Oliva came into camp a different player, and manager Derek Shelton took notice of Oliva’s demeanor. The 25-year-old Oliva is happy and having fun.
Last spring, on the other hand, Oliva appeared to be nervous. Even he admits that he didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes. This year is another story.
“This year, he is having fun, consistent at-bats,” Shelton said. “We continue to see the maturing of the body. He worked on some things this offseason, and he looks comfortable. That’s extremely important for our younger players as we continue to develop our culture and grow. He looks like he belongs. That’s what we want. I’ve been really happy how he has looked early.”
Oliva, Pittsburgh's No. 12 prospect per MLB Pipeline, said his quality of work this spring is a lot better. One could hear confidence in his voice when he spoke to the media on Wednesday. That confidence was then on display when he hit a solo home run in the sixth inning of a 6-5 loss to the Yankees in Grapefruit League action.
“Last year … it was good to kind of get the feet wet a little bit,” Oliva said. “This camp, I’m on a mission. I realize now I can play more of a role this year and help the team win. It was different than last year, where I was getting my foot in the door, get an opportunity in the big leagues. This year, it’s more, ‘Hey, how can I stay there?’ That’s the goal I’m trying to accomplish.”
Oliva spent the offseason working on his swing and his mechanics on the bases, such as learning how to make proper jumps on opposing pitchers. He said spending time in the Major Leagues last September helped him realize what he had to improve on for 2021.
Oliva is trying to make the Major League club as a bench player. Entering Wednesday’s game, Oliva had received only four at-bats this spring. It didn’t help that he had back problems, but the injury was not considered serious. But he was in the lineup against New York, starting in right field and going 1-for-2 from the No. 8 hole.
Feliz looks sharp
Pirates right-hander Michael Feliz made his first appearance of the spring and pitched a perfect fourth inning on Wednesday night. It was his first appearance on the mound since Aug. 1, 2020.
Feliz missed most of last season -- and a good portion of Spring Training -- recovering from right forearm discomfort. As he was getting healthy this spring, Feliz had his share of throwing batting-practice sessions.
Feliz retired all three batters he faced, getting Derek Dietrich to ground out to first, Miguel Andújar to fly out to center field and DJ LeMahieu to ground out to first.
“I felt great, but most importantly, I feel healthy,” Feliz said. “There is nothing different. I just feel great and healthy and looking forward to the season.”
During the offseason, Feliz went to Driveline Baseball, a player development program in Seattle, to work on his slider. He also acknowledged that he was working on mechanics and his arm slot.
“But more than anything, I focused on mastering the slider,” Feliz said. “[I was just increasing] the velocity and adding more break to the pitch.”
Better in the batter’s box
Although the Pirates are hitting .248 this spring, Shelton has been pleased with his team’s approach at the plate. It’s the reason they're off to a 5-4-1 start.
So far, it’s a sharp contrast to where the Bucs were during the regular season last year. Pittsburgh ranked 30th in the Majors with a .641 OPS in 2020. It has a .755 OPS this spring.
“I’m encouraged by the aggressiveness of our swings. I think that has stood out,” Shelton said. “Going full-team offense, I’ve been encouraged by how we run the bases. [On Tuesday], we had three or four different opportunities where we did things really well on the bases. I think that helps with offense. That also creates more opportunities. I think they kind of run hand in hand.”
• Shortstop Kevin Newman (left hamstring tightness) is making daily progress and is doing light baseball activities, such as holding the bat, dry swings and swinging off a tee. According to Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk, Newman is no longer experiencing the tightness he felt on Sunday.
• Shortstop/outfielder Cole Tucker (left thumb contusion) has started hitting from both sides of the plate. The Pirates are going to monitor him over the next few days.
• Left-hander Austin Davis (left elbow sprain) is throwing on flat ground and threw as far as 90 feet.
• Right-hander José Soriano continues his progression with bullpen sessions during his recovery from Tommy John surgery.