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The Other Side: Tigers’ A.J. Hinch Bullish on Pirates



Alika Williams-Pittsburgh Pirates

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a periodic series titled “From The Other Side” in which opponents give their views about the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Detroit Tigers see the Pirates more than any American League team.

The two franchises have been tabbed as “natural rivals” by Major League Baseball and meet each other four times a season in interleague play. The Pirates and Tigers also usually play each other four times a spring in Grapefruit League games.

So, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch has at least a rough idea about the progress the Pirates are making in what has been a long rebuilding process. Hinch likes what he sees.

In some ways, both franchises are on parallel paths as they hope to contend this season after long playoff droughts. The Tigers haven’t been to the postseason since 2014 and the Pirates’ last appearance was in 2015.

“We’ve seen their young players grow,” Hinch said. “I think one of the similarities is that the variance in young players’ performance is common around the league and both us and the Pirates are counting on some young players developing fast at the major-league level. Obviously, I know both cities are rich in tradition, rich in history and have great fan bases.

“Is there winning on the horizon? I certainly hope so for our organization and I can see it in their organization. I’m very close with a lot of people over in Pittsburgh, so I’m biased but they’ve become a much tougher team to match up with now that they’ve gotten more athletic and more active on the bases. Their pitchers have developed, and they have some big-time guys coming.”

Brandon Hyde’s Advice for Derek Shelton

The Baltimore Orioles are a franchise the Pirates are trying to emulate. The Orioles won the American League East title last season to complete a long climb from the bottom of the standings.

The Orioles lost 115 games in 2018, leading to the firing of manager Buck Showalter. Brandon Hyde replaced Showalter and the Orioles had 108 losses in his first season, then after going 25-35 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Baltimore lost 110 games.

The Orioles improved to 83-79 in 2022 then broke through with an AL-best 101 wins last season.

Hyde and Pirates manager Derek Shelton have talked about the importance of staying patient while waiting for the eventual payoff of winning.

“You try to find small victories,” Hyde said. “There are a lot of nights where you think it’s going to be a tough night going in, what it looks like on paper. You just hope that your guys continue to improve over the course of the year, and you keep a good culture, which it sounds like Shelty has done here. Then as you get more talented you hope that a lot of things just fall into place.

“You have to be surrounded by great people. I’ve had great coaches around me. Supportive front office, too, that’s a big one. The front office has to be realistic about who you have and what you’re playing against and (general manager) Mike Elias was more positive than I was sometimes, quite honestly, because of the situation.”

Alika Williams Fan Club President

Rookie utility infielder Alika Williams’ inclusion on the Pirates’ opening-day roster was a bit of a surprise.

Williams has the reputation of being a good defender. However, he hit just .198/.270/.243 in 46 games last season for the Pirates in his first taste of the major leagues.

Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson and Williams were college teammates at Arizona State then first-round draft picks in the 2020 amateur draft. Detroit selected Torkelson first overall, and Williams went to the Tampa Bay Rays with the 37th selection.

Williams has played in just five games so far this season but has gone 5-for-18 (.294) with a triple. Torkelson doesn’t think Williams’ start is necessarily a small sample size fluke.

“He’s one of the best defenders I’ve ever seen but he’s a good hitter, too,” Torkelson said. “He’s wiry, he has a good swing, a good approach at the plate and a good eye. I think that gets overlooked because his defense is so good, but I really like him as a player and love him as a person.

“It’s an adjustment period when you get to the big leagues. It took me a full year and some change before I started figuring this league out a little bit. He’s a smart guy and he’s determined to be the best version of himself.”


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