PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates thought they had the solution to a big problem.
When Oneil Cruz sustained a broken left ankle on April 9, it left a huge hole at shortstop. Cruz is still a work in progress in what was supposed to be his first full season in the major leagues but undeniably has the most talent of anyone on the roster.
The Pirates shifted second baseman Rodolfo Castro to shortstop immediately after Cruz was injured. Castro went on to start 18 of the first 23 games the Pirates played without Cruz.
While the Pirates won’t acknowledge it publicly, Castro is no longer their regular shortstop. He has started at the position only once in the last seven games.
Tucupita Marcano has started four times at shortstop during that span for the skidding Pirates, who lost for the ninth time in their last 10 games Wednesday as they fell 4-3 to the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park. The other two starts have gone to journeyman Chris Owings, who was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday.
So, who is the Pirates’ starting shortstop? It’s a complicated situation.
“We feel we’ve got guys that in combination can do a really good job,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “We’re confident in the young players we have and how hard they’re working. They’re going to be good players. Young players are gonna continue to play.”
However, the Pirates also like having the veteran presence of Owings, who is in his 11th major-league season. The 31-year-old was also hitting .273/.360/.523 with two home runs in 13 games with Indianapolis despite being slowed by a groin injury.
“We saw an opportunity to add a little bit of defensive stability in the middle infield,” Cherington said about the addition of Owings. “Chris has been doing this for a long time. He’s a really reliable defender. We thought the timing was right to make that switch. We’ll continue to look at how our position player group lines up.
Marcano is hitting .245/.339/.388 in 22 games. He connected for his first home run of the season in Wednesday’s loss, the third longball of his 96-game career.
In parts of three major-league seasons, Marcano has made six starts at shortstop compared to 30 at second base, 28 in left field and two in right field.
“For sure, I feel a lot better at short now,” Marcano said. “I feel good at second base, too. The more you play the more comfortable you get at that position.
“I think sticking to my routine is the key of going out there and being in a better spot offensively. Just sticking to my routine and that’s what helped me from spring training on. Just stick to it. I think it will put me in a better spot.”
Castro’s spot is a bit in flux as his minus-4 defensive runs saved and six errors in 22 games at shortstop so far this year are concerning.
He started four times in the just-completed six-game homestand, twice at second base and once each at third base and shortstop. However, Castro has been a plus offensively as he has a .258/.365/.433 slash line with four home runs in 36 games.
“He’s really young,” Cherington said of the 23-year-old. “He’s talented, he’s working hard, he cares. We’re just gonna continue to support him and help him continue to get better and get his work done. He’s made outstanding plays and, you know, every once in a while mistakes are gonna happen. It’s part of the game. He’ll recover from that, we’ll recover from it, keep pushing it forward.
“His role changed in the middle of the season as a young player, and that’s not the easiest thing to do. He’s an important part of what we’re doing and is going to continue to play a lot. We know it’ll keep getting better.”
Castro can be an asset to the Pirates with his ability to switch-hit, provide power and an increasing willingness to take a walk. Considering the Pirates have scored a grand total of 13 runs in nine games in the not so very merry month of May, they need to get Castro into the lineup.