Pirates 5, Reds 4: Oneil Cruz and Ji-Hwan Bae Lead Buccos to Opening Day Victory

Baseball is a game of inches.

A ball four that lands an inch away from the strike zone.

A line drive that lands a few inches fair to tie a game.

Young players slowly turning into Major Leaguers on a daily basis.

This game is about the fine details. However, when Oneil Cruz gets ahold of a pitch, baseball is no longer a game of inches.

Cruz and Ji-Hwan Bae led the Pirates offense in a 5-4 win over the Reds today. Each player reached base three times and scored two runs in their first Opening Day starts. Cruz got the Pirates on the board in the third inning with the solo home run above, hitting the no-doubt blast to tie the score at 1-1.

Bae was intense on the bases in the fourth inning. With one out, he doubled on a line drive to left, using his speed to make sure he would reach second base. He stayed aggressive, stealing third base and rattling starter Hunter Greene, who walked Austin Hedges.

That may have forced the Reds to go to their bullpen a little early. Reds right-hander Fernando Cruz came on and walked three batters and threw a wild pitch that gave the Pirates a 4-1 lead.

Mitch Keller was one pitch away from having a nice five inning, two run start. The Pirates’ starter entered the fifth inning with two runs on four hits, with three walks and six strikeouts — giving up a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut down the lead.

The Pirates stuck with Keller after he put runners at first and third with one out, approaching the 100 pitch mark. Keller struck out Tyler Stephenson, then went into a quick 0-2 count against Jason Volster. His 100th pitch saw Volster turning on an inside fastball for a triple down the line — thanks to a rough bounce off the wall that got past Canaan Smith-Njigba.

Prior to that at-bat, Keller turned the momentum and battled back in the inning. In the end, he lost a battle that tied the game at 4-4. A few innings earlier, I noted the outstanding job that Smith-Njigba did turning on an inside 102 MPH fastball for a hit. Volster did the same on an inside 96 MPH fastball from Keller.

Dauri Moreta came on and walked two batters, before striking out Will Benson to end the inning against his former team. Moreta struck out two more in the sixth, before Rob Zastryzny came on to make his Pirates debut, striking out one in 1.1 perfect innings.

That took the game to the eighth inning, where Bae and Cruz came through again to put Zastryzny on as the pitcher of record.

Bae led off the inning with a walk, then stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Hedges. That brought up Cruz, who worked to a full count before taking a high 93 MPH fastball to left field for a sacrifice fly that scored Bae to give the Pirates a 5-4 lead.

With a speedy option on third and a tie game with one out, a fly ball is all you needed there. Cruz didn’t try a power swing, but laid an easy swing across the top of the zone, and because he’s Oneil Cruz, the ball still traveled to the warning track. That left plenty of time for Bae to score the go-ahead run.

Colin Holderman pitched a scoreless eighth inning, getting the game to David Bednar in the ninth. The Pirates used a different defensive alignment, moving Bae to center, Jack Suwinski to right, removing Smith-Njigba, and bringing in Rodolfo Castro at second.

Bednar gave up a double to left, but struck out two to pick up his first save of the year — giving Zastryzny the win and the Pirates a 1-0 start to the 2023 season.

Pirates Scope

**Andrew McCutchen had a great return, going 1-for-2 with three walks. Carlos Santana, on the other hand, had a rough day, going 0-for-4 and stranding seven. Smith-Njigba had a nice hit on a 102 MPH inside fastball against Hunter Greene, but struck out three times and left five on base. Despite the struggles from the 4-5 hitters, the Pirates managed to get offense from the edges of their lineup.

**The middle relief, to me, is a question mark for this team. When you get to Bednar with a one run lead, there’s a level of trust. Right now, the Pirates are in a situation where guys like Holderman have the chance to establish trust in their abilities to be consistent, just as Bednar did a few years ago. It’s not going to be comfortable to watch, but today’s outcome of 4.1 shutout innings, two hits, two walks, and seven strikeouts was exactly what you want to see from the bullpen before Bednar.

**Am I the only one who stops everything when Oneil Cruz is at the plate? Bae almost has the same excitement on the base paths. Having him setting the table in the later innings was beneficial today. Cruz led off the first and the third inning, but was batting cleanup in that big fourth inning. In that inning, Fernando Cruz came on and bounced 50 foot fastballs to Cruz, walking him to load the bases on a rally started by Bae. Then, in the eighth, Bae led off the inning with a walk, and Cruz brought him in as the number three hitter that inning. That pairing, with Hedges as the “get him over for Cruz” guy, might be fun to watch this year. Cruz isn’t going to be in that traditional cleanup role at the start of the game. That doesn’t mean he won’t be in the traditional cleanup role with a speedy runner on base in the later innings when the Pirates need a run.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Nice Headline for Opening Day W! But it really should be “Pirates walk their way to Victory”! This one was gift wrapped to the Bucs in the 4th inning by 4 consecutive walks followed by a wild pitch that scored 3 runs. So some perspective is needed here……it’s the Reds after all.


Great detailed description of the game Tim, thank you.

Will there be a separate thread made for Pirates games during the year? Think it was titled pirates discussion, or something like that. It was for those watching the game live to comment & complain about Shelton.


I see that they can’t sell beer anymore at the Great American Ballpark.

It seems the Reds lost the Opener. 🙂


Let’s not lose sight of this fact…Pirates have already ensured themselves a winning calendar month one game into the season.

Hopefully the first of many.


Ditto on the must see TV for Cruz.

Even things like that last at bat impress me. The leverage and strength combination, or whatever it is, is just silly.

Of all the different times his unicorn status has been apparent to me, I remember a game later last season (in Milwaukee if I recall) where one Pirate hit a home run where he looked like he fully uncoiled on it and squared it, and it cleared the wall by like ten feet. Same game, Cruz got fooled and reached/back-footed one that still somehow reached the concourse *behind* that section of seats.

I don’t know what he will eventually be, or how long he’s here, but I plan to enjoy the ride. 🙂


No K’s in four AB’s, good plate discipline, not chasing low outside pitches when he faced the lefty Young. A lot to like in game one from Cruz.

Wilbur Miller

Even on the SF today, just a fairly casual-looking swing and it carried to the edge of the track. Anytime he puts the bat on the ball something dramatic can happen.

Last edited 2 months ago by Wilbur Miller

that was a swing he would have NEVER had in 2022. Thats situational approach and lacking from the whole team last year. good to see.


Yep, that last at bat SF really showed the magic…shortened up and just kind of “excuse me”-waved at the ball and it carried deep enough to have scored even racin’ Rod Barajas (maybe?? 😂) from third.


Just why would you bring his name up, it’s taken me years to scrub him from my mind. Painful memories of having to watch him in Bucco’s uniform. Him, Barmes & Pitcher was like forfeiting 3 inn every game.


Joe…. Hey, been curious ever since I’ve joined and been lurking around here – are you either of the Joes associated with NB High once upon a time? I lived between Woodbury and Martinsburg from the ‘70s into the 2000’s and that’s a name that’s hard to forget. (In a good way, not like our friend Rod, lol)

b mcferren

that series of events is something we can replicate often

Bae drag bunt or walk or just gets on
Bae steals second Baes
Hedges sacrafice bunt
Cruz either long fly ball to deep in the outfield or gets a hit or hits a two run homer

that will work often for us


Cruz is must see TV. Mitch will have better days. Fun to see the young guys making noise.


Wonder how many ABs before Suwinsky gets a hit


With news of Reynolds/Bucs reaching a dollars/years agreement but some other snag surely negotiations are ongoing?


My guess is bargaining over a no trade clause


A no-trade clause makes the most sense to me–if he’s taking what he perceives as a hometown discount because they like Pittsburgh, he deserves the right to approve a trade by having to waive the no-trade clause. If we’re right that this is the issue, I can’t believe a deal won’t get done–it would be terrible management if it didn’t. Maybe a compromise would be a significant salary bonus if he ever was traded.


I am thinking it is an opt out which the Pirates would be nuts to do because then they are assuming all of the risk.


That would surely be an all time about face from Reynolds. Going from requesting to be traded to insisting on a no trade clause.

Of course I guess it’s at least possible him getting a new deal and a no trade clause wouldn’t mean he had rescinded his trade request. Definitely would make for an awkward situation though that I’d hope the Pirates would avoid.

Last edited 2 months ago by battlingbucs
Wilbur Miller

Well, nobody’s saying no at least.


I’m giving it to next Friday. If they’ve agreed on dollars and term then it would be foolish for either side to walk away. Foolish for the Bucs for the bad PR. Foolish for Reynolds as it’s unlikely at best if this is say 6/95 that he will ever see that much money in his career. The upside to agreeing (becoming a guaranteed hundred-millionaire for BRey and actual good PR and likely attendance boost for the Bucs) far outweighs the potential damage to both sides now that we’ve come this far. I even suspect Reynolds may be the one who blinks as if the deal isn’t reached the Pirates lose nothing because everyone already has a negative opinion. What’s the worst that happens? They continue to have losing seasons most of the time but profit 30M? It literally can’t get worse and they can easily say you’ll never be dealt and good luck in FA as a 31 year old. I believe it’s 75/25 a deal gets struck before the Home Opener


The offense Cruz-ed Bae-utifully.



Surprised that Santana got the start over Choi, since Santana was supposed to be the weak side platoon option.


Santana’s timing at the plate looked bad. I’d like to see Choi at DH as their best lineup means that Cutch is in RF & Choi at DH.


Excellent observation. I was wondering if Choi was not able to go for some reason? However, when we get a W, everything’s all good.

Great BP work, Cruz too good, Bae taking full advantage of his game, ‘Cutch and Reynolds with good starts, and liked the late defensive shift.

Bae had a 78.9% SB success rate in AAA, 30 of 38. Swaggerty also has that tool – 20 of 25 for an 80% SB success rate at AAA. After he gets another 15 or 20 games of swings at AAA he may be an option.


Pittsburghs gahnta super bowl!

Wilbur Miller

Interesting that, in a tight game, they went to Moreta and Zazman, and not Crowe, Underwood or DeJong.

b mcferren

Moreta sure put on a show

I hope that finger thing doesnt catch on – – – it looks tacky


Probably why they won, lol.

Wilbur Miller

Funny, just realized the Zazzer got the W.

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