Pirates’ Oneil Cruz shows off cannon arm, clocks fastest throw in MLB this season

When a baseball leaves rookie shortstop Oneil Cruz’s hand at an outrageous speed — something that happened Monday night at PNC Park — first baseman Michael Chavis tries not to worry.

He can withstand a little pain in his hand. If the throw breaks the webbing in Chavis’ glove, oh, well. There are plenty more in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ clubhouse.

Nonetheless, Cruz’s strong arm could turn into a real concern for opposing players — and maybe even Pirates equipment manager Scott Bonnett.

When Cruz made his 2022 major-league debut Monday, he doubled and singled among his five at-bats. He also recorded the three fastest sprint times by a Pirates player this season — 31.5, 30.7 and 30.2 mph.

But those stats weren’t what everyone was talking about after the Pirates’ 12-1 victory against the Chicago Cubs.

It was what happened after Cruz fielded Willson Contreras’ groundball in the third inning and whistled the throw to Chavis at first base. It was clocked by Statcast at 96.7 mph, the fastest of any throw in MLB this season and second-fastest during the Statcast era (starting in 2015).

The fastest speed starting and winning pitcher JT Brubaker could manage off the mound Monday was 94.5 mph.

“I knew it was hard,” Brubaker said. “I didn’t know how hard it was. It’s like, ‘You had to do that to me? You had to throw one harder than I threw it off the mound?’ In the moment, it was just like, ‘Wow, that’s a cannon.’ It’s a lively arm.”

The way Chavis sees it, if one of Cruz’s throws causes his glove to explode, so be it.

“Until it happens,” he said, “I’m probably just going to hang with it and hope it doesn’t hit me in the face.”

He did get hit in the face by a Diego Castillo throw June 13 in St. Louis, but that throw wasn’t pushing 100 mph.

“As long as I’m catching it, we’re going to be OK,” Chavis said. “If it swells my thumb, that’s better than missing the ball.

“My immediate thought was just let it be in the air, you know? Just don’t short-hop it. Out of the hand, it looked like it was going to be on the ground, and then it just leveled out, hit me right in the chest. I didn’t really have to do much.”

Manager Derek Shelton was impressed, too.

“Donnie (Kelly, bench coach) and I just looked at each other,” he said. “Donnie said the same thing. ‘I can’t imagine anybody’s ever thrown the ball across the infield that hard.’ We were talking about (Manny) Machado.

“It came out hot.”

Chavis said opposing players who reach first base are impressed just as much by Cruz’s 6-foot-7 frame that makes him the tallest shortstop in major-league history.

“You see a large individual at shortstop like that, it’s just abnormal,” Chavis said. “You’re not used to seeing it. There were a couple guys who got on base (who say), ‘Is he really a shortstop?’”

Chavis tells them: “As far as I know. He’s doing it today.”

Brubaker isn’t the only pitcher who was one-upped by Cruz’s arm.

“Over there in Triple-A, over in Indy,” Cruz said through translator Michael Gonzalez, “I would have a few pitchers bring that up to me like (Osvaldo) Bido and (Cristofer) Melendez. ‘Hey man, lower it down a little bit so we don’t look as bad.’ ”

Of course, it’s not Cruz’s job to worry about pitchers’ feelings or what he might do to the equipment, including Statcast’s radar guns.

“Whatever’s going to get broken,” he said, “is going to get broken.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at jdipaola@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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