PITTSBURGH – With youth comes enthusiasm and Endy Rodriguez has both.
The 23-year-old catcher had a rough major-league debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night. He went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, the last one ending the game, as the Pirates were pummeled 11-0 by the Cleveland Guardians in the opener of a three-game series at PNC Park.
Yet the three punchies, a 47-minute rain delay and an 11-run loss could not dampen Rodriguez’s spirit. His biggest takeaway from his first day in the big leagues was that the Pirates started six rookies.
‘The future is here, man,” Rodriguez said. “I know we’re going to do something special with this team. At some point, we’re going to do the best job. I know we have a lot of younger players here and I think we have the talent. We’re going to do something special.”
Maybe someday but not Monday.
Right-hander Quinn Priester also made his major-league debut as he was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis along with Rodriguez and shortstop Liover Peguero prior to the game.
Priester was perfect through the first three innings but gave up a two-run home run to Amed Rosario in the fourth inning. Things unwound quickly for the 22-year-old, and he ended up getting tagged for seven runs in 5.1 innings.
Peguero also struggled in his second big-league game after appearing once for the Pirates last season, going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.
Manager Derek Shelton also started three other rookies in second baseman Nick Gonzales, third baseman Jared Triolo and right fielder Henry Davis.
In the big picture, the six rookies are a sign that the Pirates are again in a full-bore youth movement. They have decided to pull the plug on their faint hopes of contending, which were mainly fueled by a 20-8 start to the season that seems like it happened a very long time ago.
The Pirates are 21-45 since that hot streak and reality has set in this month as they have a 2-11 record in July with a .207 team batting average.
However, the Pirates believe they can start building a nucleus that will eventually turn into a contender.
“We see a lot of teams that are homegrown and win together,” Shelton said. “They spend a lot of time together not only in the minor leagues but once they get to the big leagues. Obviously, there have been different reasons why some of these guys have come to the big leagues. Some of them have come because we’ve had injuries and they’re performing. Some of them have come because it’s time to get them here. The fact that they’re all here and they can play together at the big-league level for however long amount of time it is before we get some of those guys back healthy, I think is extremely important.”
Peguero is admittedly a guy who doesn’t look too far into the future. However, he recalled a talk with right-handed reliever Carmen Mlodzinski two years while both were playing at High-A Greensboro.
Peguero and Mlodzinski are now teammates in Pittsburgh.
“We had this conversation, and it was like a five-minute conversation, but all he was talking about was ‘Hey, we will be together for 10 years,’” Peguero said. “I’m like, ‘10 years? That’s a long time.’ We got to be very lucky to be together for 10 years. He’s like, ‘Just trust it. We’re going to be together for 10 years.’ We’ll see if he’s right or not.”
Indeed, we shall see.
The Pirates have tried plenty of youth movements since their last division title in 1992. Ultimately only one has worked as Andrew McCutchen led a group that helped the Pirates reach the National League Wild Card game for three straight seasons from 2013-15.
Yet the Pirates still haven’t won a playoff series since 1979, a year in which they beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
Will this youth movement work? History suggests the answer is no.
But who knows for sure?
With the present bleak, the Pirates might as well look to the future yet again and hope maybe – just maybe — Rodriguez turns out to be right.