Opening Day hopefuls Tucker, Allen show off

March 18th, 2022

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Cole Tucker is trying to earn an Opening Day starting spot, and he made one heck of an opening statement in the Pirates’ 4-3 win against the Yankees on Friday afternoon.

Tucker made a triumphant introduction to kick off the spring on both sides of the ball, launching a no-doubt homer, recording a generous triple and showing out on defense along the way.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a first game of Spring Training like that before,” Tucker said. “It feels good to set the tone.”

Tucker laid the foundation for what he hopes to be a fruitful spring by crushing a no-doubter to right-center field in the third that banged off the roof of the Kona Brewing Co. bar. Tucker made sure to enjoy his trip around the bases, adding a stutter step around first base for a little extra swag.

At 429 feet, Tucker’s homer would’ve been the second-longest of his career, just behind the 431-foot blast he had in his first career game. Along with the homer, Tucker also recorded a dubiously-ruled triple that nearly exited the ballpark as well, a play that Yankees center fielder Ender Inciarte probably should have made. When asked if the play should have been ruled an error, Tucker offered one of his signature smiles, content to take what he could get.

The focal point of Tucker’s offseason was adding more stability, a trait that translates to both sides of the ball. To manager Derek Shelton, Tucker’s swings looked far better than last season, results aside.

“The credit goes to him,” said Shelton. “We had a general conversation about stability, and he's more stable in his set-up. At times, previously, we'd seen him lose his legs a little bit. He worked really hard on it this winter. When you work on something and see the immediate results in a game, it's definitely a bonus.”

To complement his performance at the plate, Tucker flashed the leather right before providing the power.

To close out the top of the third inning, Tucker battled the sun to make a sliding basket catch in shallow left field to take a hit away from José Peraza. Given how abrasive the sun can be at LECOM Park, Tucker’s snag was all the more impressive.

If Tucker keeps showing out, it wouldn’t be shocking for him to be in the starting lineup when the regular season begins.

Tucker has spent the majority of his career at shortstop, the position that he started at on Friday, but he’s also played second base and right field, a pair of spots without a definitive starter for Opening Day. The 25-year-old’s most probable path to the starting lineup in St. Louis on April 7 is likely at second base, but Tucker should see time all across the diamond in the coming weeks. 

Aside from third base (Ke’Bryan Hayes) and center field (Bryan Reynolds), every position across the diamond is up for grabs to varying degrees. With a good spring, it would not be inconceivable for Tucker to be the Opening Day shortstop, second baseman or right fielder.

Allen shows off vs. former team
Tucker wasn’t the only Opening Day hopeful with a fantastic opening statement against the Yankees. Greg Allen had an excellent all-around game, smacking a wind-assisted home run, getting plunked and stealing second base. As with Tucker’s triple, when Allen was asked about nature playing a factor in the ball clearing the fences, he was content to take what he could get.

Along with the performance itself, Allen provided the Pirates with their first moment of comedic relief this season. 

On the second pitch of his first plate appearance, Allen appeared to be grazed by a sinker. Allen showed home-plate umpire Shane Livensparger his elbow in an attempt to prove his case, but Livensparger didn’t budge and called it a foul ball. On the very next pitch, Allen was, once again, grazed in just about the same spot. This time, he was awarded first base and egged on the crowd before making his way to the bag. Allen then proceeded to steal second base.

“A lot of positive signs,” Shelton said. “That's good to see. Any time when you start and you make a really good impression, that's really important.”

Worth noting
Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff was originally scheduled to pitch just two innings, but was efficient enough in the first two that he was given the chance to go out for a third. Across three frames, Eickhoff allowed one hit and one walk, struck out two and didn’t allow a run in what was the best performance by a Pirates pitcher of the afternoon.