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Perrotto: Rivalry Just Beginning for Oneil Cruz, Elly De La Cruz



Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — It isn’t always fair to compare players.

Yet it’s what every sports fan likes to do. As do sports writers. And even the players themselves.

So, it was only natural to want to compare the two shortstops in Monday night’s game at PNC Park. Beyond the Pittsburgh Pirates playing against the Cincinnati Reds, it was Oneil Cruz versus Elly De La Cruz.

There are easy parallels to draw between the two. Both are exceptionally tall shortstops with dreadlocks — Cruz is 6-foot-7 and De La Cruz is 6-5 — who have great raw baseball skills and athleticism and are Dominican Republic natives.

And, as the kids might say, they are the type of players who break Statcast because of their high exit velocities and sprint speeds among other measurables.

Though Cruz made his major-league debut late in the 2021 season and De La Cruz got called up to the big leagues last season, the two had never faced each other until Monday night. Cruz sustained a broken left ankle in his ninth game of last season, nearly two months before De La Cruz made his debut.

Monday also marked the first time the Pirates and Reds met this season despite being National League Central rivals.

The night’s biggest star was Pirates rookie pitcher Paul Skenes. The first overall pick in last year’s amateur draft held the Reds to one run over six innings to raise his record to 4-0 through seven starts while lowering his ERA to 2.29.

The 22-year-old continues to match the lofty expectations surrounding his arrival to the major leagues on May 11.

However, Cruz vs. De La Cruz was an interesting subplot. It will seemingly play out many more times throughout the decade as Cruz isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2028 season and De La Cruz won’t be able to reach the open market until a year after that.

Both managers were asked about the budding rivalry before the Pirates beat the Reds 4-1 in the opener of a three-game series. Both said they looked forward to two ultra-talented players going head-to-head for years. It might not be MLB’s version of Bird vs. Magic, but it should be entertaining.

“I think we’re so focused on all of our players and the team games but it’s nice when you have individual players who stand out at a young age,” Reds manager David Bell said. “They are both fun to watch.”

Said Pirates manager Derek Shelton, “You’re talking about two dynamic athletic players who can win games with all facets of their skill sets. It’s great for the game. We’re talking about young dynamic players that provide a ton of energy and I think it’s fun for the fans.”

It was hard to declare a winner of Monday’s Round 1.

De La Cruz went 3 for 4 with a double but did not score or drive in a run. He stole his MLB-leading 37th base but was picked off first by Skenes.

Cruz was 1 for 4 but his hit was a two-run single in the first inning that opened the scoring. That turned out to be the game-winning RBI.

There will be many more battles between the 25-year-old Cruz and the 22-year-old De La Cruz. Time will tell who gets the better of the matchups.

They might want to protect Statcast with some plexiglass.

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