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Perrotto: Derek Shelton Learns Patience Truly a Virtue

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Pittsburgh Pirates manager Derek Shelton tosses a foul ball to a fan during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Washington Nationals in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

This is a significant year for Derek Shelton for a couple of reasons.

The Pittsburgh Pirates manager is in his fifth season, a relevant milestone in any profession. Shelton has been around long enough to establish how he does business and handles his team.

The Pirates also believe they can contend this season. The franchise hasn’t been to the postseason since 2015 and has had just four winning seasons in the last 31 years. Yet the Pirates feel they can be competitive in what is likely to be a wide-open National League Central race.

Though it is still very early in the season, the Pirates are 11-8 and in third place in the division. They are only one game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers (11-6) going into Friday night’s game with the Boston Red Sox at PNC Park that follows an off day for the Pirates and begins a three-game series.

Shelton’s career record is just 229-336 and he has overseen some dreadful seasons. The Pirates were an MLB-worst 19-41 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season then lost 101 games in 2021 and 100 games in 2022 before using a late-season rally to finish 76-86 last year and avoid the NL Central basement for the first time since 2018.

However, Shelton believes he has improved at his job over the last five seasons. The Pirates do, too, which is why he still has the job despite a career winning percentage of .405 – that works out to a record of 65-97 over a 162-game season.

Shelton was asked recently how he has grown the most in the job. He did not hesitate in answering.

“More patient with everyone, including myself,” Shelton said. “I think when you first get the job, you want to do a ton of things right off the bat and you have to pick and choose what’s the right things to do and how to go about them.”

Shelton also believes he has become a better listener and more adept at communicating information to his coaching staff and players.

“In terms of listening, I think over the course of the last probably two years, in terms of how we break up information amongst ourselves, our staff, who we have conversations with, very similar to how NFL and NBA staffs do it where they go to the specialty skill set to listen to someone,” Shelton said. “It’s not just going to your offensive coordinator, maybe your quarterbacks coach, maybe your receivers coach – I think we’ve done a good job with our staff over the last couple of years with breaking up responsibilities and then making sure that those people are leading certain conversations.”

The Pirates have had few changes to the coaching staff during Shelton’s tenure. Don Kelly remains the bench coach from the 2020 season. Also, still in their same roles are pitching coach Oscar Marin, third base coach Mike Rabelo, first base coach Tarrik Brock and bullpen coach Justin Meccage, among others.

While some fans feel the Pirates have had too much stability with their staff, Shelton believes his coaches have grown immensely over five seasons. Also, Shelton and general manager Ben Cherington have a shared vision of how the Pirates could build a championship team for a franchise that hasn’t been to the World Series since 1979 when they beat the Baltimore Orioles.

“I’m most proud of the growth that we’re making with our players and a lot of that credit goes to the staff,” Shelton said. “I think our depth in our organization is something that is better than when we got here. Probably the most part I’m proud of globally is that Ben came in with a plan, and we have never veered off that plan. Sometimes it’s been challenging, at times people have questioned it, but we’ve never veered off like what we do that we think’s going to be successful for long-term success in Pittsburgh.

The plan hasn’t been successful, at least at the major-league level. Yet there is no indication the clock is ticking on Shelton and Cherington in the eyes of owner Bob Nutting.

Shelton certainly walked into an awful situation and it got worse when the Pirates decided to go into full-on rebuilding mode in 2020. However, in Year 5, it is fair to expect some significant progress.

Patience only goes so far.

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