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How Should Pirates Handle the Slumping Oneil Cruz?



Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — While the entire Pittsburgh Pirates’ offense is struggling, Oneil Cruz’s prolonged slump is perhaps the most noticeable of anyone.

Cruz entered play on Apr. 8 with a .304 batting average and an .803 OPS through his first 10 games of the season. Leading up to that point, Cruz had a four-game hitting streak with multiple hits in three of those four contests.

Since then, however, Cruz has found himself in a nosedive.

Cruz went 0 for 2 with a strikeout and a walk in Sunday’s loss to the Boston Red Sox. He’s now hitless in his last nine at-bats and is batting just .087 (4 for 46) with 22 strikeouts over his last dozen games. He’s only recorded hits in three of those 12 games.

“As a player you go through good times and rough times,” Cruz said through interpreter and Pirates coach Stephen Morales following Sunday’s loss. “On my side I have to just try and continue to play and try to get better.”

The Pirates have seemingly gone as Cruz has through the first month of the season. Through Cruz’s first 10 games played, the Pirates had an 8-2 record. Over his last 12, the team has gone 3-9.

The Pirates have already dropped him in the lineup. Cruz went from serving as the leadoff hitter for most of the season to batting eighth each of the past two games against Boston.

So far, the shakeup hasn’t given Cruz a jumpstart.

Now the Pirates are faced with the dilemma on how to handle a key piece of the roster as his struggles continue to build.

A couple of games out of the lineup to reset could do Cruz well, especially with Alika Williams — who has surprisingly been one of the Pirates’ better hitters through the early-going — as a viable replacement. But manager Derek Shelton threw cold water on that idea following Sunday’s game.

“He’s a big part of our offense,” said Shelton. “We have to figure it out and he’s not gonna figure it out by getting multiple days off right now. We need to run him out there.”

Knowing the offense is struggling and Cruz is a big factor as to whether this team gets hot or cold doesn’t add any added pressure on the 6-foot-7 shortstop, but it’s still a big ask for a guy who missed essentially all of last season.

“I don’t try and put extra pressure on myself but we’re always trying to help the team through rough times and do something good for the team, but it’s not necessarily more pressure,” he said.

So if a lineup position change doesn’t do the trick and a couple games on the bench is seemingly out of the question, the Pirates don’t have many other options.

If Cruz is back in the lineup for Monday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers and the foreseeable future, he will have to work his way out of his slump through in-game reps.

That’s easier said than done, especially considering the Pirates have scored a grand total of nine runs during their current six-game losing streak.

If the Pirates’ offense wants to get back to how they performed at the beginning of the season, it likely starts with Cruz.

If Cruz can’t figure it out fairly soon, the Pirates may have no other choice than to option him to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Talk about a nightmare scenario after a dream start.

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