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Derek Shelton Explains Pirates’ Opening Day Lineup Surprises

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CINCINNATI – The Pittsburgh Pirates will have two rookies start in their season opener. Both would have been considered longshots to be in the lineup when spring training began.

Ji-Hwan Bae will play second base and Canaan Smith-Njigba will be in right field when the Pirates play the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.

Rodolfo Castro was considered the favorite to be the starting second baseman at the beginning of spring training. However, Bae has forced his way into at least a timeshare at the position.

“Today, it just kind of came down to the matchup,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “We’re going to see Rudy at second base some, going to see Bae in the outfield some. But today we just felt that was the best opportunity for us to win the game.”

Smith-Njigba navigated a crowded field of outfielders in camp to make the opening-day roster. In Grapefruit League play, he hit .326 (15 for 46) with three doubles, two home runs and 11 RBIs.

“We have to see what he does and how he does it,” Shelton of Smith-Njigba’s potential playing time. “As of right now, he’s going to get at bats. We’ll go from there. And with a lot of guys on our club right now, we’ll go from there and make decisions. With the spring he had, he deserved to be here.”

Shortstop Oneil Cruz will beat leadoff for the Pirates and be followed by left fielder Bryan Reynolds, designated hitter Andrew McCutchen, first baseman Carlos Santana, Smith-Njigba, third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, center fielder Jack Suwinski, Bae and catcher Austin Hedges.

Right-hander Mitch Keller will be making the first opening-day start of his five-year career and oppose Hunter Greene.

Hayes in the No. 6 hole is a bit of a surprise after he hit near the top of batting order during the bulk of the exhibition games.

“He bounced around,” Shelton said. “We did hit him sixth a couple times in the spring, depending on the guys we had in there. It’s just kind of evened out our lineup a little bit. I think we’ll see him bounce around a bit, depending on where we’re at matchup-wise.”

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