Cruz shows off, Wilson strong against Brewers

July 3rd, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have been wont to bounce back after some of their lower moments this season, and Saturday was no different.

Less than 24 hours after losing by 17 runs, their second-largest margin of defeat this season, the Pirates responded with a solid, all-around 7-4 win over the Brewers on Saturday at PNC Park. Pittsburgh is now 5-2 in games after they’ve lost by nine or more runs.

“You just have to flush games,” said manager Derek Shelton. “We’ve had a couple games where we’ve been beaten by a considerable number of runs, and the next day we’ve always bounced back. We’ve been able to flush it.”

Cruz records 2nd homer in 3 games, turns key double play
Off the bat, all Shelton thought about was the safety of the fans in the right-field bleachers.

Oneil Cruz's second home run in his last three games wasn’t just the second-hardest-hit home run by a Pirates player this season (112.3 mph); it was also the one with shortest hang time (3.93 seconds). With the ball being struck so hard, Shelton didn’t wonder whether the ball would clear the fence, but whether the spectators in right field could escape injury.

“When he hit it, my first thought was, ‘I hope a fan gets out of the way, because this ball is coming in hot,’" Shelton said.

Cruz’s home runs are always awe-inspiring feats, but the shortstop’s best play of the day came with his glove. In the second, with runners on second and third and the infield in, Christian Yelich lined a 94.4 mph line drive to the right of Cruz, who reached out and made the über-athletic catch, then nonchalantly jogged to third base to double off Jace Peterson. If Cruz hadn’t made the catch, the Brewers would have upped their lead to three runs, with potentially more in store.

“Off the bat, I'm like, ‘That's probably gonna squeak through,'” starting pitcher said. “And then he makes that catch. It's a momentum swing. It’s nice to have a shortstop that’s 6-foot-7.”

The biggest knock on Cruz’s game has been his defense. He’s made a couple of errors in his short time with the Pirates, but as he showed on Saturday, he also possesses the tools to make plays that few others can make.

Bednar nails down save
 had been having a rough week.

On June 25, Bednar blew a save against the Rays in St. Petersburg. He subsequently missed the next couple days with a lower back issue. When he returned on Friday, inserted into a four-run game in the ninth inning, he allowed three runs and was pulled before completing the inning. In two outings, Bednar’s ERA had jumped from 1.30 to 2.50.

But Bednar got himself back on track Saturday, throwing a scoreless ninth inning to record his 12th save of the season. Things appeared a little dicey when Bednar walked Yelich, leading off the inning, on four pitches, but Bednar regrouped and retired the next three batters in order.

“I think [Friday] was kind of an outlier, just knocking the rust off a little bit,” Shelton said. “Good to see him bounce back.”

Wilson goes six strong in return to Majors
Pittsburgh’s bullpen was in need of a breather.

With Roansy Contreras failing to get out of the second inning on Friday, the Pirates’ bullpen (not including Josh VanMeter) had to cover 5 1/3 innings. The Pittsburgh relief corps entered Saturday's game depleted, with many members set to benefit from a day off. Enter Wilson, who allowed just two runs across six innings in what was easily his best start this season at the Major League level.

“It is a great feeling, kind of like a breath of fresh air,” said Wilson, who entered the game with an 8.29 ERA across nine games with the Pirates. “[It’s a] weight being taken off my shoulders. I knew it was there; it was good just finding out how to get it and how to use my stuff and execute the way I did."

The last month-and-a-half has been a change of pace for Wilson. Aside from a spot start with the Pirates on June 14, Wilson, who began the season on the Opening Day roster, has been pitching for Triple-A Indianapolis. He has logged a 3.16 ERA across five starts at Triple-A, with 29 strikeouts to five walks.

With Zach Thompson set to come off the injured list on Sunday and start for Pittsburgh, Wilson’s start on Saturday might end up being a one-and-done.