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Oneil Cruz’s Hot Stretch Bright Spot in Pirates’ Dormant Offense

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Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — The struggles from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ offense have continued to build, but there has been at least one encouraging sign in recent weeks.

After going 0 for 2 with a walk against the Boston Red Sox on Apr. 21, Oneil Cruz was barely batting above the Mendoza line at .209. His poor average came with a lowly .261 on-base percentage and a .326 slugging percentage.

Cruz’s uninspiring performance up to that point caused some to question if he had a chance to live up to the hype that surrounded him from his days in the upper levels of the minor leagues.

Following the game against the Red Sox, Cruz admitted that his own belief in himself had waivered.

“It’s all about confidence,” he said through Pirates’ coach and interpreter Stephen Morales.” I’ve been losing my confidence a little bit lately but game by game, hopefully I’ll get it back.”

Two and a half weeks later, Cruz looks like a new player.

The very next day after admitting his confidence had taken a dive, Cruz went 3 for 4 with a home run and two RBIs against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The big game sparked a hot stretch at the plate for Cruz.

Cruz entered Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Angels hitting .311 with an .849 OPS, two doubles, two home runs and six RBIs in his last 14 games. Cruz reached base safely in all 12 of the games he’s started during that span and collected at least one hit in 11 of those 12 starts.

The 6-foot-7 shortstop kept swinging a hot bat in the Pirates’ 5-4 loss to the Angels on Wednesday afternoon.

Cruz finished the game with a pair of hits in four trips to the plate. One of those hits was a three-run double in the fifth inning to put the Pirates ahead 3-2.

“It felt good,” said Cruz on his big hit. “Went out there really aggressive and tried to do what happened. Just tried to give our team a lead and that’s what I did.”

Subtle adjustments in preparation have helped Cruz during his current stretch. Leading up to the day he admitted his confidence had waivered, Cruz had struck out in just over 40% of his plate appearances.

Cruz said that seeing more curveballs from the pitching machine and focusing on the strike zone has helped him. Over his last 13 games, he’s cut down his strikeout rate to a much more manageable 25%.

For that reason and the results he’s getting when putting the ball in play, Cruz appears to be as locked in as he’s looked in quite some time.

“It’s a product of a lot of work lately,” he said. “I’m feeling a lot better now.”

When he’s at his best, Cruz is the type of player who can carry an offense. He can hit the ball as far and as hard as anyone and can change a game with one swing of the bat.

What he’s shown recently is the level of play the Pirates will need from their potential star, especially considering the woes from the Pirates’ offense as a whole.

Cruz has the ability. He has all the makings of a great player but he will need to show consistency and prove his performance in recent weeks isn’t a fluke.

If he’s able to do that, maybe he will lead the Pirates out of their lengthy team-wide struggles.

“This kid’s a good player,” said manager Derek Shelton. “I think, as we’ve talked about, he’s missed an entire year, we just need to make sure that we keep him fresh and we keep ramping up at-bats. He’s a talented kid and I think we’re seeing that…”

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