Smith-Njigba's HR just one sign of Bucs' bats heating up

Hill scuffles in start vs. Orioles, allowing 5 runs

March 14th, 2023

BRADENTON, Fla. -- If one big focus of this year's Spring Training for the Pirates is bettering the offense, several bats lately are proof that Pittsburgh is headed in the right direction.

led the charge in one game during Tuesday's split-squad slate, a 2-2 tie against the Twins at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. was key in the other movement, a 7-6 loss to the O's at LECOM Park. and were hot at the plate one game prior -- when burned up the basepaths -- and the ball has been consistent fire coming off of 's bat.

At about the midway point of Grapefruit League play, there are lots of bright spots when it comes to the Bucs' work with the bats.

"I think with the group of guys that we're talking about going to Pittsburgh with us, we're definitely starting to see progress," manager Derek Shelton said. "And I know sometimes in Spring Training games because there are so many guys that play, it may look different, but I think the guys that we're really focused on ... over the past five or six days, I think our at-bats have really improved."

On Tuesday, Smith-Njigba torched a 2-0 fastball with two outs in the fourth inning against Minnesota. His first homer of the spring left his bat at 108.8 mph and tied the game at 1. At home, Swaggerty's fourth-inning grounder streaked up the first-base side at 97.4 mph, scoring Tucupita Marcano with the Pirates' game-tying run.

On Sunday (Pittsburgh had an off-day Monday), Reynolds and Suwinski went deep to boost the outfield corps, while Cruz sprayed a pair of balls in play at 113.2 and 110 mph. The first was a groundout to second, but the second was a line-drive single to center field that Shelton called an "absolute rocket."

The 24-year-old shortstop is averaging a 96.1 mph exit velocity on batted balls this spring, tied for second-best among players with at least 15 tracked balls.

"As much as you hit in a cage or off a machine or whatever, you cannot emulate at-bats unless you physically get live at-bats," said Swaggerty, who had a pair of singles on Tuesday to boost his spring average to .368. "... The environment’s different. If you're just taking [live batting practice] on a high-school field, there's no pressure at all. Then you get all the situations here and fighting for playing time, it definitely amplifies things so you can't really emulate it."

Hill sounds off on bumpy start
didn't mince words following Tuesday's outing against Baltimore, a three-inning affair during which he allowed five earned runs on six hits.

"The ball came out OK, but the results were what they were, so it’s crap," he said. "You go out there and you don’t throw the ball well … I’m not outcome-oriented, but the results are what they are. That’s part of the game."

Hill, who signed a one-year deal worth $8 million on Jan. 5, sets his standards high and works to maintain them, so it was no surprise that he was irked by his final line. Shelton said he thought his veteran executed some pitches and "did some good things," making note of Hill's play at the plate in the second inning and the two weak groundouts he induced.

Two O's hits to the outfield -- one that wound up scored a triple off the bat of Josh Lester -- weren't ruled fielding errors, but they appeared to have been playable, which didn't help Hill's cause.

Still, the 18-year Major Leaguer refused to accept excuses.

"When you go out there and you pitch like that -- like crap -- you have to be brutally honest with yourself, and that's it" he said. "I expect better."