Bucs credit 'a lot of team stuff' for Opening Day win

March 31st, 2023

CINCINNATI -- It wasn’t just the youth. It wasn’t just the bullpen. It wasn’t just the 31-year-old journeyman soaking up his first Opening Day after a decade of professional baseball. In the Pirates’ first win of the season, a 5-4 victory over the Reds on Thursday at Great American Ball Park, there was no shortage of contributions.

“Overall, really pleased because there was a lot of team stuff that happened today,” manager Derek Shelton said. “It wasn’t one guy who did it. We kind of did it up and down and with our pitching, too.”

and Ji Hwan Bae played a prominent role in the win as they filled up the statsheet. Cruz drew two walks and turned on Hunter Greene’s 101.3 mph fastball to launch his first home run of the season, taking a step towards his goal of a 30-30 season, while Bae recorded a single, a double, a walk and two steals. More than just their numbers, Bae and Cruz each played a part in one of the game’s most important sequences, using a bit of small ball to manufacture the go-ahead run.

Bae began the eighth inning by drawing a four-pitch walk against Buck Farmer, then swiped second on Farmer’s first offering to , his second steal of the day. Hedges laid down an awkward-but-operational sacrifice bunt, advancing Bae to third base. Cruz, instead of going for gusto, shortened up his swing and drove in Bae with a sacrifice fly, giving the Pirates a one-run lead they’d never relinquish.

“He doesn’t have to take full swings at times,” Shelton said. “I think we can see that as strong as he is, as big as he is, the commitment to just shortening up and putting the ball in play. That’s hard to do for a guy who’s six-foot-seven with really long arms. But to be able to see that today was really impressive.”

From there, the backend of the bullpen held it down. , cutter and sweeper in tow, needed just nine pitches to get through a scoreless eighth inning, collaborating with Hedges to complete an inning-ending strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out double play -- a call that stood after the Reds challenged. made things a tad interesting in the ninth when he allowed a one-out double to Jonathan India, but he struck out TJ Friedl and Jake Fraley to end the game and record a save.

For all Bae, Bednar, Cruz, Hedges and Holderman contributed to the win, this day, in some respects, belonged to left-hander .

Zastryzny, drafted by the Cubs in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft, signed a Minor League contract with the Pirates this offseason with an invitation to Spring Training. With Pittsburgh, Zastryzny had an opportunity to crack an Opening Day roster for the first time in his decade-long professional career.

The southpaw performed well this spring and traveled with the Pirates to Cincinnati after wrapping up Spring Training, but participating in the team’s workout on Wednesday didn’t guarantee him a roster spot. The club didn’t officially set its roster until Thursday, meaning it could’ve mulled its options and gone with another reliever. By Wednesday’s end, however, Shelton delivered the good news.

“When I brought him in, I was going to mess with him a little bit,” Shelton said. “But when I saw the look on his face, I was like, ‘I can’t do this. I’ve got to go straight to the point here.’”

Zastryzny wasn’t just an observer on his first Opening Day, as he was called on with two outs in the sixth inning for his first appearance as a Pirate. He struck out Friedl to end the frame, then pitched a perfect seventh inning as well, retiring all four batters he faced. Thanks to Cruz’s sacrifice fly, Zastryzny ended up with the win. The wait was well worth it.

“The off-day is going to be nice tomorrow, so I can let it all soak in and take my wife to a nice dinner because she’s been traveling all across the world,” Zastryzny said. “It will be nice to have her relax a little bit.”

Added Shelton, “It makes you smile when a guy is 31 years old, it’s his first [time playing on] Opening Day, and he goes out and performs like that.”