Pirates' lefty hitters to be tested right away in opening series

The Pirates will face four consecutive left-handed starting pitchers to begin the 2024 season
Mar 3, 2024; North Port, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates designated hitter Oneil Cruz (15) bats
Mar 3, 2024; North Port, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates designated hitter Oneil Cruz (15) bats / Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates open the 2024 regular season on Thursday, March 28 in Miami for a four-game series against the Marlins. Seemingly ever-replete with excellent pitching depth, the Marlins were widely expected to deal from that strength in order to bolster their lineup. They ended up not doing so, and that's probably for the best, at least in the short term.

2022 NL Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara underwent Tommy John surgery in October, likely sidelining him for the entire 2024 season. And just since the start of camp, Braxton Garrett, Edward Cabrera, and Eury Perez each have suffered either shoulder or elbow injuries, delaying each of their starts to the upcoming campaign.

On Friday, Marlins manager Skip Schumaker announced his starting rotation to begin the season - Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk, Ryan Weathers, and Trevor Rogers. They all have one thing in common:

They're all left-handed pitchers.

Several Pirates, specifically Oneil Cruz and Jack Suwinski, are going to have to face a pretty tough challenge right out of the gate.

Cruz has posted very lopsided splits to this point in his MLB career. He's slashed .263/.326/.508 (128 wRC+) against right-handers, but a ghastly .173/.246/.309 (54 wRC+) against southpaws. His struggles against lefties are well established - an astonishing 48.8 percent of his swings against left-handed pitchers have resulted in a whiff, more than five percent worse than the next-worst left-handed hitter (obviously, Joey Gallo). What's more, over half (51.6 percent) of all of his MLB plate appearances against lefties have ended in a strikeout.

Cruz appeared to show some improvements between Spring Training and his brief showing in 2023. Here's hoping a lost year of development didn't negate all of the improvements he made and the work he put in. Cruz likely won't be part of a platoon; he's going to get every opportunity to produce against left-handed pitching, and that's going to start right off the bat.

Jack Suwinski is in a similar boat - much better results against righties (.234/.344/.488, 125 wRC+) than against lefties (.164/.263/.300, 57 wRC+). His strikeout rate of 37.4 percent, while not quite at Cruz's level, is still the sixth-worst among left-handed hitters with at least 100 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers over the past two seasons.

But with Michael A. Taylor now in the fold, Suwinski is expected to platoon, most likely with Edward Olivares (.760 career OPS against lefties, .857 in 2023). Still just 25 years old, there's still hope that Suwinski can develop more as a left-on-left hitter, and he likely won't sit out all four games in deference to Olivares (or Connor Joe, if he's not at first base, or Andrew McCutchen, if he can play defense). He, too, will get an opportunity in this series.

Four consecutive games against left-handed starters is a tough draw for the Pirates to begin the 2024 season.

The Pirates have multiple hitters who historically have performed exceptionally well against lefties. Cruz and Suwinski joining that group would be a significant development, and they'll be thrown into the fire right away.