January 29, 2023

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Mitchell embodies Bucs' promise, inexperience

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PITTSBURGH — The Pirates are young, filled with rookies. The kids are going to electrify. They’re also going to have their learning moments. In the Bucs’ 5-3 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday night at PNC Park, Cal Mitchell embodied that dichotomy.

“Like we said, we’re going to see good and bad at times,” said manager Derek Shelton.

On the offensive side, Mitchell was at the center of all three runs that Pittsburgh scored. In the bottom of the second inning, Mitchell hit his second home run in as many days, a two-run no-doubter to right field that traveled 405 feet. Two home runs in two days is worth celebrating, but the feat is even more impressive given that the home run came off southpaw Tarik Skubal, who has allowed just one other career homer to a left-handed hitter.

Mitchell generated the Bucs’ other run with his hustle. With two outs and Mitchell on first base in the second inning, Yu Chang hit a duck snort into shallow right field. Off the bat, the ball appeared destined for a glove. Instead, the ball found grass. Mitchell never stopped running even as the ball hung in the air, and he scored rather easily.

“Another thing that kind of went unnoticed is on the ball that Chang hit, [Mitchell] kept coming the whole time,” Shelton said. “[Third-base coach Mike Rabelo] made a really good, aggressive send. A really good play. He gave us a chance to score a run just by making an aggressive baserunning play.”

Several innings later, Mitchell had a learning moment. With Daz Cameron on first base, Tucker Barnhart hit a sinking line drive towards right field. Mitchell didn’t get a good read. He hesitated as he broke in on the ball, but instead of staying back and playing it on the hop, which would likely have kept Cameron at second base, Mitchell went for the diving catch. He wasn’t particularly close. The ball ended up rolling away from him, allowing Cameron to score from first.

“Especially in a one-run game in the eighth, he’s got to stay on his feet and just body that ball and keep it in front of him [so] you end up with first and second or, at worst, first and third,” Shelton said. “He just left his feet. With young players, there’s times where there’s going to be development things that we have to talk about. We’ll talk to him about that situation. He gets caught in-between. He’s just got to block the ball.”

Mitchell added: “I made my initial read, pulled up, decided to dive. In hindsight, close ballgame, a couple of outs … should have stayed on my feet, blocked it and controlled some damage. But yeah, definitely moving forward [I’ll] make sure I have that read locked down in practice so I don’t do that one again.”

Mitchell isn’t the only rookie to make a mistake this season. This team, which currently employs eight rookies, is going to have its learning moments. Travis Swaggerty, who made his debut in the loss, will have his learning moments. The prospects who eventually get called up are going to have their learning moments. At the same time, the kids are going to have moments where they shine.

This loss, then, was an encapsulation of this young team. There was good. There was bad. There’s room to grow.

“I’m always trying to learn, and you could say I learned to not do that tonight,” Mitchell said. “It’s just like for any team trying to win ballgames.”

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