Facing one of the toughest handed starting pitchers in the National League, budding Pittsburgh Pirates star Oneil Cruz showed great early season adjustments at the plate on Saturday
Whenever the Pittsburgh Pirates return to relevancy and the postseason Oneil Cruz is going to be a huge part of that. The sooner Cruz takes steps in his development and begins to put all of his tools together the better for the Pirates.
Even though the team suffered a 6-2 loss, there were some positives that could come out of it for the Pirates. Two of these positives were the first two at-bats that Cruz had against Cincinnati starting pitcher Nick Lodolo.
As a rookie last season Lodolo was one of the toughest left-handed starting pitchers in the National League. He posted a 3.66 ERA, struck out 29.7% of batters faced, and limited opposing batters to a .235 average. Against left-handed hitters his numbers were even better with a 39.6% strikeout rate and an opposing batting average of .109.
Even though he struck out in his third trip to the plate against Lodolo, you never would have known that Cruz was facing one of the toughest left-handed starters in the league. Cruz had a base hit off Lodolo in each of his first two trips to the plate, but the base hits were not the most impressive part of Cruz's at-bats.
In each of his first two trips to the plate Cruz found himself in an 0-2 hole against Lodolo. In each of these at-bats he laid off an 0-2 breaking pitch that looked like a strike out of Lodolo's hand before running out of the strike zone. This is a pitch left-handed sluggers wave and miss at frequently, just think of Pedro Alvarez. Cruz, however, laid off the pitches.
Last summer, Cruz would have waved at these pitches and struck out. But not this season. Cruz remained patient and showed a great eye in each of these at-bats. The first ended in an infield hit that occurred due to his elite speed, the second saw him fist the ball through the infield on a one handed swing to drive in a run.
Now, it's just two at-bats. However, they were agaisnt one of the best young lefties in the league. A young lefty who is a budding star that will terrorize the Pirates and the rest of the National League for years to come.
If Cruz can continue to show this improved eye and patience at the plate, especially against left-handed pitching, then he could make a huge leap this season. The kind of leap that sees Cruz begin to put all of his tools together and begin to enter teh conversation as one of the best players in the NL.