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Perrotto: No More Sleepless Nights for Oneil Cruz

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Pittsburgh Pirates, Oneil Cruz

Oneil Cruz used a translator to answer the question but the smile on the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop’s face made his feelings clear in any language.

Cruz was asked how he was feeling after being limited to just nine games last season before breaking his left ankle on April 9 while sliding into home plate in a game against the Chicago White Sox.

“All good. 100% now,” Cruz said Saturday through translator Stephen Morales during PiratesFest at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. “Everything like it’s supposed to be.”

And if everything is the way it’s supposed to be from a playing standpoint, Cruz should provide a big boost to the Pirates this year following a season in which they won 14 more games than in 2022. Few players in baseball possess Cruz’s combination of big-time power, a cannon arm and blazing speed.

Liover Peguero, the presumptive favorite in the competition for the starting second baseman’s job in spring training, certainly understands the impact his potential double-play partner can have.

“He’s a very important piece,” Peguero said. “We’re all very happy and excited to see him back. Of course, it’s Oneil Cruz. Who doesn’t love to see a Cruz missile?

“Besides his baseball skills, he’s a really great person. I know (the media) sees him and he’s very quiet and stuff, but he’s just such a nice guy. He’s always trying to help and just talk through things all the time. I feel like that’s one of the main and most important things that he has, and I think that’s very special.”

The Pirates originally hoped Cruz would return in mid-August. However, Cruz had setbacks in his recovery and was unable to play in a game-type situation until November when he took part in intrasquad scrimmages at the Pirates’ academy in his native Dominican Republic.

That experience gave Cruz peace of mind as he prepares to report to spring training next month.

“It was great, just because with all the time I spent without playing, I was stepping on the field,” Cruz said. “It was great just to be out there and be able to step on the ground, on the field.”

Cruz, 25, said the biggest test was sliding for the first time on his repaired ankle. That is unsurprising considering Cruz was injured when he slid into White Sox catcher Seby Zavala at home plate.

“The only thing that I think have to prove to myself, and I did already a few months ago, was just how to slide again,” Cruz said. “And I did that in the Dominican during the rehab assignment down there, during games. I took that out of my checklist, and I think I’m good now.”

Cruz is also expected to have no major restrictions in spring training.

“Now that I feel 100% again, just go out there like I do every year and give my 100% out there and be ready from Day 1,” Cruz said.

While it was an extremely small sample size, Cruz looked like a much-improved player in 2023, which would have been his first full season in the major leagues. He showed better pitch recognition and situational hitting awareness.

“Definitely moving in the right direction,” Cruz said. “The good thing is having a plan of growth as a player and all that. If something goes wrong, you move forward. But definitely having a plan and being around some veteran players is going to help me do what I was doing at the beginning of the season.”

More than anything, Cruz will just be happy to get back on the field. It wasn’t a lot of fun missing over five months of the season.

“It was tough,” Cruz said. “It got to a point that I couldn’t even sleep at night, just thinking that I couldn’t be on the field helping my team. It was tough, for sure.”

Cruz can sense that better days are ahead, though. The smile on his face says so.

John Perrotto is a columnist for Pittsburgh Baseball Now and has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB since 1988.

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