With Kevin Newman on the 10-day injured list with a left groin strain, the Pittsburgh Pirates have plenty of possibilities as they start their search for a short-term replacement at shortstop.
The immediate candidates were internal, as the Pirates used the roster spot to reinstate All-Star center fielder Bryan Reynolds from the covid-19 injured list instead of promoting a prospect. Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said Newman could be out three to five weeks.
“We’ll kind of go from there and see where we’re at,” Shelton said of Newman, a 2021 NL Gold Glove finalist who was batting .250 / .308 / .375 with four doubles, a triple and eight RBIs in 14 games this season. “It’s an unfortunate thing. (Newman) had good at-bats last night, kind of felt like he was finding his groove offensively. “Any time you lose someone who plays a lot of innings for you, it’s unfortunate.”
With one of the most obvious options unavailable – Cole Tucker is on the covid-19 injured list – Pirates manager Derek Shelton had rookie Diego Castillo bat leadoff and start at shortstop for Wednesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park.
Castillo, acquired from the New York Yankees in the Clay Holmes trade last July, has played six games at second base, three in right field and one each at shortstop and third base for the Pirates this season.
“I feel comfortable playing shortstop,” Castillo said. “I’ve spent all of my life playing shortstop and second base. If Kevin does not feel real well right now, I can fill in for him until he comes back. I’ll be giving my 100%. ”
The Pirates have a number of middle infielders on their 28-man roster, from Castillo and Michael Chavis to Tucupita Marcano and Josh VanMeter, but Shelton showed he isn’t afraid to try something new.
When Newman was injured in the sixth inning Tuesday night, Shelton moved third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes to shortstop for the final three innings while Castillo, who pinch-hit for Newman, played second base.
“Ke ‘is an option to play there,” Shelton said. “Is Ke ‘an option to play every day there? I would say probably not. Will he play there sometimes? Yeah, maybe. ”
Given how often Hayes mans that spot when the Pirates shift against left-handed hitters, Shelton and Hayes had discussed him playing some shortstop in spring training before a right ankle sprain kept Hayes out for the final week of Grapefruit League games. Shelton has to consider the risk-reward of moving Hayes to short and playing someone else at third base, allowing for a possible drop-off in defense at two positions.
“That weighs into it a lot,” Shelton said. “I think it goes off matchups, where we think guys are going to hit the ball, how hard the ball’s going to be hit. There’s a lot of different options. And with different pitchers, we have a different idea of where the ball’s gonna be hit. We can kind of play it off that. (Tuesday) night it was more getting him in there to get his feet wet in a five-run game. ”
Hayes takes grounders at shortstop every day as a way to improve his footwork and his range but has to adjust to playing deeper in the hole. But Tuesday’s game marked Hayes’ professional debut at shortstop, a position he hadn’t played since high school.
“It’s a little different because you have a few more responsibilities, like cuts and stuff but I’m comfortable with doing it,” Hayes said. “It’s more double play depth, when I go to my right and that move because I do not do that any more. Doing the flip is a pretty normal feeling. The ground ball to my right, whenever I’m turning a double play, that’s different. Then of course, you’re further away so you’ve got to get rid of the ball quicker. It’s just instincts. ”
The most instinctive move for the Pirates would be to promote their top prospect, 6-foot-7 shortstop Oneil Cruz, from Triple-A Indianapolis. Baseball America ranks Cruz its No. 14 prospect and Double-A Altoona shortstop Liover Peguero No. 80. Both are on the 40-man roster but would require a corresponding move to be added to the 28-man roster.
“Everybody in our system who’s on the roster at the upper levels will be given consideration,” Shelton said. “There’s been progress (with Cruz), and there’s still work to be done. We’re focusing on what that work is. ”
Cruz did not make the Opening Day roster despite going 5 for 15 (.333) with two home runs in five Grapefruit League games this spring, and is slashing .190 / .271 / .317 with three doubles, a triple, a home run and eight RBIs in 16 games for Indianapolis. He hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 11th inning for an 8-7 walk-off win over Columbus on Sunday.
Cruz left a lasting impression when he made his major league debut last October, recording the Pirates’ hardest-hit ball in the Statcast era on a 118.2-mph single for his first major league hit then homered in the season finale. Count Hayes among the Pirates players who would like to see Cruz get a shot at shortstop while Newman is out.
“It would be awesome,” Hayes said. “I’m sure everyone would love to see him up here. We love him. He’s a really good guy. His baseball talent speaks for itself. The other day he hit a walk-off nonchalant, like 116 (mph) or something like that. I hope he’s up here soon. That would be great. ”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .