PITTSBURGH -- One game back and Ke'Bryan Hayes is already showing the many ways he can provide a spark to the Pirates’ offense in the coming days.
The rookie third baseman went 2-for-3 and wowed with the glove in his first game off the 60-day injured list in a 5-3 win over the Marlins at PNC Park on Thursday.
“I would say he looked pretty good,” said manager Derek Shelton with a smile.
Hayes was sent on a rehab assignment on May 22, in part to help get his legs under him and be game ready. He proved his legs are ready -- and more -- when he reached base in his first at-bat on an infield single, thanks to a 29.9 ft/sec sprint speed to beat out a throw by Jazz Chisholm Jr. That’s the fastest tracked sprint speed on an individual run in his young MLB career, and just shy of the 30.0 ft/sec “elite” threshold.
After striking out to end the third inning, Hayes rebounded by belting a ball to the opposite field in the sixth inning. Once again he showed off his wheels, stretching a double off the Clemente Wall into a triple that set him up to score on a fielding error by Chisholm on a rocketed grounder from Bryan Reynolds.
But what is a day at the office for Hayes without a defensive gem or two? First, he made a routine play on a ground ball in the fourth that didn’t make the highlight reels, but that was big for his confidence.
“I wasn't worried about the at-bats," Hayes said. "I'm always worried about that first ground ball, and then once I get my first ground ball out of the way, I kind of settle in."
“Settled in” is an understatement for the two phenomenal plays Hayes went on to make. The three-time Minor League Gold Glove Award winner made a diving stop to rob Chisholm -- who is in the 95th percentile in sprint speed in MLB -- of an insurance RBI in the seventh inning. Then, he robbed ex-Pirate Starling Marte of a leadoff extra-base hit in the eighth to keep Pittsburgh within a run.
“When Ke'Bryan's over there, it's really amazing,” catcher Jacob Stallings said. “The half-sliding play he made to his left was unbelievable, and was a huge play for us. The guy, he's just an unbelievable player."
But in order to give themselves the best chance to win games, the Pirates are going to need more than just Hayes, and two guys who have given the Bucs chances to win more than others in the lineup showed up again on Thursday.
Reynolds cranked his fourth homer in his past seven games, just narrowly clearing the gating on the Clemente Wall in right field in the fourth inning for a leadoff blast.
“It's been really good to see him get back to who he is,” Stallings said. “All he's done his whole life is hit. He's a really good player, too."
Then Stallings, who has produced in clutch situations for an injury- and depth-tested lineup, got another shot in a high-leverage spot in the eighth inning. With the bases loaded and one out, he quickly went down 0-2 against Dylan Floro, who fooled him with a couple of two-seamers.
But Stallings fought off pitches until he got nearly the exact same sinker that fooled him twice earlier, then drove it to left field to clear the bases.
“When you extend an at-bat by fouling pitches off, you can get yourself an opportunity for a pitcher to make a mistake,” Shelton said. “He got a mistake, and he hit it hard."
The Pirates finally got the big hits, but they’re definitely going to get a boost from both the little things Hayes does -- as simple as moving the runner to second in the eighth to give Floro a little more pressure -- and the big things like his triple and sensational snares.
“I think we’re 2-0 when he’s played nine innings,” Tyler Anderson said, “so it’s good to have him back."