Pittsburgh Pirates: Ji Hwan Bae, Oneil Cruz Spark 5-4 Opening Day Victory
By Marty Leap
A home run by Oneil Cruz, a shutdown performance from the bullpen, and a little bit of everything by Ji Hwan Bae sparked the Pittsburgh Pirates Opening Day victory in Cincinnati
Thursday afternoon the Pittsburgh Pirates traveled to Cincinnati for Opening Day 2023 against their divisional rival Reds. Things were not always pretty, but, in the end, the Pirates walked away 5-4 winners on Thursday afternoon to start the 2023 season 1-0.
Pirates chase Hunter Greene early
Early on in the game Hunter Greene appeared to have things working for the Reds. He consistently pumping his fastball in at 100+ MPH while pairing it with a wicked slider. However, Pirate batters were battling. As a result they were able to run up Greene's pitch count and chase him early in his start.
The Pirates got two runners on base in the 1st inning and another base runner in the 2nd. Then in the 3rd inning, the Pirate offense struck when Oneil Cruz led the inning off with a home run. The first Opening Day home run by a Pirate shortstop since Jay Bell in 1995 tied the game at 1.
In the 4th inning the Pirates were able to continue their strong at-bats, chasing Greene from the game. Ji Hwan Bae doubled with one out in the inning and stole third base. Austin Hedges then put together a strong at-bat to draw a walk, ending Greene's day.
Fernando Cruz replaced Greene and proceeded to walk Oneil Cruz. For Cruz the batter it was an impressive trip to the plate where he laid off multiple pitches out of the zone after falling behind in the count. This was the first of three straight waks issues by Cruz.
Cruz walked in a pair of runs and uncorked a wild pitch that allowed a third run to score. This gave the Pirates a 4-1 lead and closed the book on Greene, who allowed 3 runs on five hits, three walks, and eight strikeouts in 3.1 innings pitched.
Through the game's first 4 innings Pirate batters did a tremendous job of being patient at the plate. They laid off pitcehs, fouled balls off, and made Cincinati pitchers work. This led to the Bucs chasing Greene early, forcing the Reds to use three batters to get 4 innings, and, most importantly, gave the Bucs a 4-2 lead after 4 innings of play.
Mitch Keller fails to finish the 5th inning
Making his first Opening Day start, things got off to a bit of a shaky start for Mitch Keller. Following a perfectly placed ground ball, a walk, and a broken bat bloop single to left field, Keller was in a bases loaded with no one out situation.
To his credit Keller was able to limit the 1st inning damage. After inducing a double play ball off the bat of Tyler Stephenson, he held the Reds to just 1 run in the 1st. Outside of a solo home run in the 4th inning, Keller was then able to settle in some.
In the 5th inning, however, Keller ran into some trouble. He walked Jonathan India to start the inning and recorded a pair of strikeouts that were sandwiched around a Jake Fraley single. With two outs and two strikes, Jason Volser tripled to right field to tie the game at 4, ending Keller's day.
Keller pitched 4.2 innings, allowing 4 runs on six hits, four walks, a home run, and eight strikeouts. For the most part Keller pitched well. His command was not what he wanted, but his stuff looked great on his way to generating 15 swings-and-misses. If Keller pitches the way he did on Thursday with regularity this season then he will have a strong 2023 campaign.
Ji Hwan Bae shines on first Opening Day
After making an Opening Day roster for the first time in his career, Ji Hwan Bae made the start at second base for the Pirates. Despite a defensive gaffe, which did not hurt the team, Bae was impressive throughout the game.
In his first at-bat Bae flashed his speed by laying down a bunt up the first base line that he easily beat out for a base knock. Bae's second at-bat saw him double, he then stole a base and would score later in the inning.
Entering the 8th inning the game was tied at 4 but Bae would help to quickly change that.
Bae drew a walk to start the 8th inning. Once again, he quickly stole a base to move up to second base. After advancing to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Austin Hedges, Bae scored on a sacrifice fly by Cruz. This proved to be the winning run in the Pirate victory. Cruz also had a fine day at the plate going 1-for-2 with his towering home run, two walks, a sacrifice fly, and 2 RBI.
Bullpen shuts the Reds down
No position group on this team has more question marks surrounding them entering the season than the bullpen. While things started shaky, all in all the Pirate bullpen shut the Reds down and played a huge role in their Opening Day victory.
Ex-Red Dauri Moreta took over for Keller with two outs in the 5th inning and a runner on third. After Moreta walked the first two batters he faced, he struck out Will Benson to end the inning. Moreta then faced two batters in the 7th inning, striking both of them out.
Lefty Rob Zastryzny then replaced Moreta. Also making his first Opening Day roster, Zastryzny struck out TJ Friedl to end the inning. Zastryzny followed up this strikeout by pitching a 1-2-3 7th inning as he impressed in his Pirate debut.
Colin Holderman took the ball in the 8th and faced the minimum. While he did allow a single to start the inning, that base runner was erased with a strike him out throw him out double play to end the 8th inning.
In the 9th inning it was renegade time. After allowing a one-out double to India, David Bednar's addrenaline appeared to kick in as he put a foot down. Bednar struck out the next two batters, seeming to overpower them as he slammed the door shut on the Reds. Bednar picked up his 1st save of the season as the Pirates celebrated a 5-4 victory.
Following a day off on Friday the Pirates and Reds will play the second game of their series at Great American Ballpark on Saturday afternoon. It is scheduled to be a battle of lefties as Rich Hill is slated to start for the Pirates and Nick Lodolo set to go for the Reds. Saturday's first pitch is scheduled for 4:10 PM ET.