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How Martín Pérez Has Helped Oneil Cruz Break Slump



Martin Perez, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Martín Pérez this winter for several reasons.

First and foremost, the Pirates needed some stability in the starting rotation after ending last season with only two full-time pitchers. One of those pitchers was Johan Oviedo, who underwent Tommy John surgery in the offseason.

So far, the left-hander has given the Pirates exactly that. Through his first five starts, Pérez is 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA.

The Pirates also brought in Pérez for his veteran leadership. The 33-year-old has been around the block. This year marks his 13th season pitching in the major leagues.

He knows what it takes to win. Last season, he was part of the Texas Rangers’ team that won their first World Series title in franchise history.

While Pérez’s leadership was naturally expected to help the starting rotation and pitching staff as a whole, the veteran has expanded his role and the Pirates are getting more than they bargained for.

Over a 12-game stretch starting on Apr. 8, Oneil Cruz had been mired in a dreadful 4-for-44 slump and struck out 22 times over that span.

Still a largely inexperienced player, the uber talented Cruz was understandably frustrated during his hitting woes and admitted to losing confidence has the struggles continued to pile up.

Pérez took it upon himself to have some fun with Cruz’s. Often times alongside injured catcher Endy Rodríguez, Pérez has been seen in the dugout joking around with Pirates’ shortstop to alleviate the mounting pressure. Pérez took it one step further during Wednesday’s game.

Pérez put on Cruz’s batting gear, grabbed his bat and imitated his stance in shades of Batting Stance Guy on Twitter/X.

“I told him that I got many hits and many home runs this year and I told him that I’m gonna give everything I have,”  Pérez joked. “Just trying to have fun and enjoy the game. We’re proud to be here and be outside everyday and watch the game, play the game. I’m just trying to make sure they feel good when I’m around them.”

Keeping things loose seemed to be exactly what the usually-smiling Cruz needed. It had been some time since Cruz flashed his beaming grin.

Pérez noted that Cruz has been able to mask those frustrations better than most, but knows the anger had been building.

“When he strikes out, he doesn’t wanna show it to his teammates or other people that he’s mad, but he’s mad. He’s mad inside. I think that’s a brilliant guy. I remember when I was in that process, I was not able to control those kind of things like that.”

Though it specifically helped Cruz in this instance, making sure the clubhouse stays loose over the course of the long season is important for the Pirates’ starting pitcher.

“Not everybody’s gonna be the same everyday and I understand that,” Pérez told Pittsburgh Baseball Now. “I just wanna keep funny things around the guys to make sure they feel good and they don’t think too much about a pitcher or things like that. I’m trying to have fun in that moment and go out there and play hard and have fun at the same time.”

Pérez’s antics have started to pay dividends for Cruz, who is riding a four-game hitting streak and has reached base safely in six-straight games. Over his last four games,  he’s batting .462 (6 for 13) with a pair of doubles, two RBIs, two walks and only one strikeout.

In the Pirates’ loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday afternoon, Cruz went 1 for 2 with a hard-hit double and a pair of walks.

Manager Derek Shelton is happy with Cruz’s approach lately.

“I think he’s swinging at the right pitches. That’s the biggest thing,” said Shelton on Thursday. “When he went through the stretch where he wasn’t being as consistent, we really saw him start to expand the zone and he’s done a nice job of narrowing it back up.”

Pérez, like many others in the Pirates’ organization, has high hopes for Cruz, both this year and beyond.

“He’s gonna have a great career,” said Pérez. “He knows what he needs to do. With his abilities and the talent he has, he’s gonna be fine.”

It’s unusual for a pitcher to be the one to help a hitter break out of  slump, but Pérez deserves some credit for helping Cruz get back on track.

So while Cruz works with hitting coach Andy Haines and the staff with strategy, expect to see more of Pérez ensuring the 25-year-old keeps having fun. 

That might be even more beneficial for Cruz.

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