PITTSBURGH (AP) Oneil Cruz is the physical and emotional embodiment of what the Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to build.
Young. Talented. Excitable. Loaded with potential. The 6-foot-7 shortstop is part of a foundation the Pirates believe will lead them back into contention, hopefully sooner rather than later.
One bang-bang play, one awkward slide and one loud scream on Sunday afternoon against the Chicago White Sox brought Cruz's first full season in the majors to a jarring halt.
Cruz fractured his left ankle in the sixth inning of what became a 1-0 victory over the White Sox, overshadowing a strong performance from Johan Oviedo, who outdueled Michael Kopech to give the Pirates their fifth win in six games.
“We’ve got to take time to try and be in (Cruz's) shoes and you know, just hope he heals up and gets himself back,” Pittsburgh outfielder Andrew McCutchen said. “But it’s a tough blow for sure for the team.”
Cruz slid awkwardly into home plate while trying to score from third on a chopper by Ke'Bryan Hayes with no outs in the sixth. Cruz's left leg collided with Chicago catcher Seby Zavala, Cruz's ankle rolling up underneath him in the process.
“When I had looked at it on video I thought (the injury) was worse than it was,” Hayes said. “Thankfully, it wasn’t a (torn) ACL or anything like that. We were able to get the win in a hard-fought game today so it’s kind of a bittersweet win.”
Things briefly grew heated after Cruz was injured. Zavala took exception to Cruz's late slide, leading to an exchange between Zavala and Pittsburgh designated hitter Carlos Santana. The benches and bullpens cleared but no punches were thrown.
“Things happen and everybody’s competing,” Zavala said. “Tempers get high sometimes.”
Pittsburgh improved to 6-3 with the victory but now faces the prospect of trying to replace one of its most important pieces for an extended period. Rodolfo Castro moved from second base to shortstop after Cruz's exit. Yet Castro knows he doesn't have all of Cruz's considerable tools.
“I'm going to be ready for whatever position they need me to play and I’m going to give 100 percent,” Castro said. “It still hurts as I’m not gonna be able to see my teammate next to me for a while, but I’m ready for whatever comes.”
Oviedo bounced back from a bumpy start in Boston to allow five hits - all singles - while striking out five in 6 2/3 innings. The 25-year-old who was thrust into the rotation near the end of spring training when J.T. Brubaker injured his right (pitching) elbow dazzled in arguably his best start since Pittsburgh acquired him last summer in a trade that sent veteran left-hander José Quintana to the Cardinals.
“(Oviedo) was outstanding,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “He was in control the whole game. That’s a good lineup. That’s a good team and he executed.”
Chicago had collected at least 10 hits in eight of its first nine games. The White Sox managed just six in all against Oviedo and three relievers. David Bednar worked around a two-out single in the ninth by Gavin Sheets to earn his fourth save.
“(The pitchers) were able to go out there against a really good offensive team like the White Sox,” McCutchen said. "It says a lot about the team and like I continue to say, bad teams don’t do that.”
Canaan Smith-Njigba tripled in the second and scored on Jack Suwinski's sacrifice fly to produce the game's only run.
Kopech (0-2) matched Oviedo pitch for pitch, a positive sign for a staff that entered Sunday with a 7.38 ERA, the worst in the majors. The right-hander gave up just two hits in six innings with three walks and five strikeouts.
“The way (Kopech) composed himself throughout that ballgame was really, really good,” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “When he got into some trouble, he was able to make pitches and get out of it. Extremely encouraged by his outing.”
Pirates: RHP Vince Velasquez will make his next scheduled start barring a setback. Velasquez rolled his left ankle in the third inning of an 11-5 loss on Saturday night.
White Sox: Travel to Minnesota to start a three-game set on Monday. Dylan Cease (1-0, 1.59 ERA) faces Kenta Maeda (0-1, 1.80).
Pirates: Welcome reigning World Series champion Houston to PNC Park on Monday. Roansy Contreras (1-0, 1.59 ERA) pitches for Pittsburgh against Houston's Framber Valdez (0-1, 1.50).
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