July 6, 2022

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Bucs all in with diving grabs, timely hits vs. Nats

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PITTSBURGH — It was a win that took a little bit from everyone.

There were defensive gems. There were clutch hits. There was aggressive baserunning. There was situational pitching. It was the recipe for the Pirates’ 6-4 win over the Nationals on Saturday night at PNC Park, one in which there was no shortage of contributors.

“We’re gonna need our full roster to do that,” manager Derek Shelton said.

Here are three takeaways from Pittsburgh’s fourth win of the season:

Ke’Bryan Hayes continues to generate hard contact
The litany of injuries that Hayes had to work through last season had a clear impact on his offensive production. Aside from the actual numbers — Hayes was a below-league-average hitter by wRC+ — he wasn’t striking the ball with as much force. Now healthy, the results aren’t just showing up in the box score, but in some numbers under the hood.

Hayes put four balls in play on Saturday, two of which ended up as singles. More important than the hits themselves was the velocity. Each subsequent batted ball was a little harder than the next — 97.4 mph (single), 97.6 mph (flyout), 100 mph (single), 101.5 mph (lineout).

Last season, Hayes had an average exit velocity of 90.2 mph. At the end of Saturday, Hayes is up to 93.5 mph. For reference, that would’ve ranked seventh last season, right between Shohei Ohtani (93.6 mph) and Miguel Sanó (93.4 mph). Hayes might not maintain that number for the whole season, but if he’s in the ballpark, a breakout offensive season could follow suit.

“I think the biggest thing is [Ke’Bryan’s] approach is really good,” Shelton said. “He’s having professional at-bats. If you watch good Major League hitters — and it’s not only the pitches you swing at, it’s the pitches you don’t swing at — I think that’s part of Key’s maturation. We’re seeing him lay off pitches early in the count that previously he might have swung at and hit into the ground. Now he’s taking those pitches, getting himself into counts to get stuff to drive.”

Ben Gamel flashes the leather
Gamel already had the play of the night. Then, he outdid himself.

In the top of the third inning, Gamel laid out to catch a low, sinking liner off the bat of Nelson Cruz to take away a single. Two innings later, Gamel ranged to right-center, lifted off and extended to take extra bases away from Keibert Ruiz.

Gamel wasn’t the only Pirate who impressed with the glove. Diego Castillo fielded a tricky one-hopper in the top of the fourth that allowed starter Bryse Wilson to escape a bases-loaded jam. There was also Hayes who, as he is wont to do, had a fine defensive play in his own right, leaning over the guardrail of the Bucs’ dugout to secure a popup in foul territory.

“That one in right-center by Gamel, I was like, ‘Damn, there’s no chance he’s getting that’ and then, he Superman’s [it],” Michael Chavis said. “Anytime you catch it mid-air, good lord, what a special play. That dude can go get it with the best of them.”

Michael Chavis records three hits, sparks late rally with triple
Chavis has only started in two games to begin the season. When he’s been inserted into the starting nine, he’s made the most of the opportunity.

Chavis had another box-stuffer game on Saturday, going 3-for-4 with an RBI. The most electrifying part of Chavis’s evening came when he tripled on a ball hit to left field, setting the tone for an eighth inning in which the Pirates scored three necessary insurance runs. While left fielder Yadiel Hernandez took a little bit of time to collect the ball, Chavis never stopped his pursuit of three bags.

“I didn’t see how [Hernandez] was approaching the ball off the bat,” Chavis said. “Out of the box, I was trying to chase a double. When I was rounding [second], I saw there was a little bit too much air underneath the throw and I was like, ‘Boom, that’s my chance.’ I knew I could get to third base before it got in.”

Upon sliding headfirst into third base, Chavis looked towards his dugout and emphatically clapped his hands, providing a jolt of late-game energy. After Yoshi Tsutsugo drew a walk to put runners at the corners, Castillo pulled a single into left field for his first career RBI.

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