Final stretch gives these Bucs room to grow

September 1st, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- As the Pirates flip the calendar and head into September, the final phase of the season will be all about growth. , and  each have different levels of experience in the Majors, but they’ll all have the chance to continue to develop their games down the stretch.

There were some ups and some downs from those players in the Pirates’ 6-1 loss to the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon at American Family Field. With Pittsburgh out of postseason contention with 32 games left on the schedule, seeing improvement from certain players is important.

“Getting a look at our guys,” Shelton said. “We’ve got a bunch of young kids and we know we’re going to see things that we have to learn and teach off of, and that’s the full expectation that we have.”

Here’s how Thompson, Hayes and Cruz impacted Wednesday’s result and what they have to prove in September:

Thompson's versatility

Only in his second Major League season, Thompson has had to make plenty of adjustments. Last year with the Marlins and this year as a Pirate, the right-hander began the season as a starter and then moved to the bullpen.

But Thompson has kept a positive attitude about his role and embraced it.

“Thankfully, I did this before, so it’s not that new to me,” Thompson said. “I just want to keep doing what I’m doing, and as long as I’m able to put my team in a good spot to win like I did today, I think I’m doing a good job.”

In Wednesday’s start, the 28-year-old showed his versatility by allowing just three hits with one walk and five strikeouts across four scoreless innings. The outing came after a strong relief appearance in which Thompson allowed two runs (one earned) over five innings.

“Thompson was really good,” Shelton said. “I don’t know what we’ll do with Thompson. Having the day off, we’ll work through that and see where we’re at.”

The rest of the season will be helpful for Pittsburgh to see Thompson’s growth in the Majors. Whether he gets more starts or pitches in relief, he will have the chance to show the Pirates that he be a piece for the future.

Hayes' rare misplay

While Hayes’ .243 average has kept his offense out of the conversation, there’s been plenty to discuss regarding his glove.

Hayes entered the series finale ranked second among Major League third basemen with 13 outs above average; only nine-time Gold Glove winner Nolan Arenado had more (16). Hayes also led MLB with 17 defensive runs saved.

On Wednesday, though, Hayes made his 12th error of the season when he mishandled a ground ball while moving to his left in the fifth inning.

“That’s really uncharacteristic,” Shelton said.

Added Hayes: “I was going to go and touch second, so I pretty much took my eye off the ball too early.”

Hayes will have the opportunity to continue his strong play at third, while limiting those small mistakes. On top of his fielding, the Pirates would love to see his bat get going again like it did during his 2020 debut, when batted .376 in 24 games.

“Just to have better at-bats,” Hayes said of his goals for the rest of this year. “I’m just kind of in a little bit of a funk right now, so just trying to be more aggressive early in the count and have better at-bats.”

Cruz's footwork

There’s no doubt that Cruz has elite tools within his 6-foot-7 frame. And his at-bats will hopefully only improve with more experience.

But the Pirates and Cruz are working closely on his fielding. The Bucs’ shortstop appears to sidestep on some plays, causing errant throws. He made another one of those throws on Wednesday for his ninth error of the season.

“The biggest thing for a guy that size is the footwork is a challenge at times and we can continue to work [on it],” Shelton said. “We’re working every day, making sure that his feet get underneath him.”

Over the final 32 games, the Pirates’ youngsters will have the chance to show their potential and hopefully carry that into the 2023 season.

“We got a bunch of guys under 25 years old playing against All-Stars and MVPs every night and they’re taking it in stride,” reliever Chase De Jong said. “They’re learning and I’m very proud of them.”