New shortstop begins to raise profile with home run, defensive gem
August 3, 2009 12:00 PM
Gene J. Puskar/AP
Ronny Cedeno cools down in the dugout between innings Sunday at PNC Park.
Gene J. Puskar/AP
Andrew McCutchen fouls off a first-inning pitch from Nationals pitcher Collin Balester Sunday.
Gene J. Puskar/AP
Second baseman Delwyn Young, left, keeps the tag on the Nationals' Nyjer Morgan to get the out on a stolen base attempt during the sixth inning this afternoon.
Gene J. Puskar/AP
Pitcher Paul Maholm throws in the fourth inning against the Nationals.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
All anyone needs to know about Ronny Cedeno's status in Pittsburgh ...
About an hour after slugging a two-run home run and turning three slick plays at shortstop in the Pirates' 5-3 loss to the Washington Nationals yesterday at PNC Park, he walked alone toward the corner of Federal and General Robinson streets, looking for a bite to eat, and passed thoroughly unrecognized through the usual thicket of fans there.
Not so much as a glance.
And most of those fans were wearing Pirates gear, including a few with Jack Wilson's No. 2.
"Yeah, I know they love Jack here," Cedeno said earlier, speaking softly through his Venezuelan accent. "I do, too. He's a great defensive player, and he can do it all. I watched him for a long time, but I know the people here watched him for a lot of years."
• Game: Pirates vs. Washington Nationals, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Charlie Morton (2-3, 3.72) vs. RHP Garrett Mock (0-4, 7.09).
• Key matchup: Which Morton will show? In July, he alternated good-bad-good-bad-good starts while winding up 2-2 with a 3.58 ERA for the month.
• Of note: The Pirates have hit 11 home runs in the past four games at PNC Park and, overall, are 16-5 when hitting two or more home runs.
He smiled slightly when asked how he feels as the replacement.
"I'm OK. I feel good. I think we've got a pretty good team, and I'm glad to be here."
Delwyn Young also homered, Lastings Milledge had two more hits, and Paul Maholm misfired during Washington's three-run seventh inning that cost the Pirates a chance to take the first three of this four-game set with the Nationals.
But the most striking impression was made by the wiry 26-year-old at shortstop.
Wearing No. 13, by the way.
"He's doing fine," manager John Russell said of Cedeno. "We knew he could play shortstop, and he's already been solid for us out there."
The impression began in the field, where Cedeno will be most important to the Pirates' pitch-to-contact rotation: In the first and third innings, he confidently took charge on smooth 6-3 double plays. Then, for the final out of the third, he ranged to his right for a fine backhand stab of Cristian Guzman's grounder, then threw across his body to first.
The 21,894 on hand roared.
"Defense is most important for me," Cedeno said. "The hitting, I don't worry about. I work hard, but it can go up, down, up, down. Not the defense. You have to be there every day for your team."
Cedeno does not have much of a hitting pedigree, with a career .239 average in five seasons with the Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners, .276 in the minors. Power has been sporadic, too, with 18 home runs in 390 games at the top level, including six this season.
But he is off to a 4-for-11, three-RBI start with the Pirates, including his eyebrow-raising home run yesterday: In the bottom of the third, right after his defensive gem, he followed Brandon Moss' single by sending Collin Balester's 1-0 fastball deep into the base of the left-field rotunda for a 2-1 lead.
"He's got power," Russell said. "He can use the whole field, too, which will help in this ballpark. But yeah, he's got a quick swing, and he's going to be able to run into some balls."
"I don't want to talk about my home run," Cedeno said, sheepishly. "I'm not a home run hitter. Maybe four, five a year."
The other half of the new double-play tandem, the second baseman Young, fairly pleaded for patience on all counts.
"I really don't look at this like we're replacing Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez," Young said. "They had a lot of years over there, and we still have to do a lot to feel comfortable. I like the way Ronny plays, but it's different. Everybody has a different way they do things, a different way the ball comes out of their hand."
Young laughed in recalling a conversation they had Friday, shortly before their debut together.
"I told Ronny, 'We might turn a double play, and I've never caught a ball from you before.' "
They turned one Saturday.
Yesterday was setting up to be Cedeno's day as Maholm held Washington to a run and three singles through six. But the Nationals chased him in the seventh with four hits in the first five batters, including Josh Willingham's two-run home run and back-to-back doubles by Ronnie Belliard and Alberto Gonzalez.
Willingham's pitch was intended to be a sinker away, but it came in, and he powered it into the bleachers for his 17th home run.
"A mistake," Maholm said. "He's a guy who's been hot, and he's the guy you don't want to beat you."
Willingham is batting .304 and his slugging percentage since beginning everyday duty May 1 is second in the majors to St. Louis star Albert Pujols.
"Maholm had a good sinker going, so I was talking to Eck," Willingham said, referring to Washington hitting coach Rick Eckstein. "He just said, 'Try to stay through it a little more,' so that's what I tried. I got a good pitch to hit, and I was able to hit it out."
Young's sixth home run, leading off the seventh inning, pulled the Pirates back within 4-3, but Willingham's RBI double off Jesse Chavez in the eighth provided insurance.
This surely was not the finish Maholm was seeking after having a 5.52 ERA in June, 5.90 in July. Overall, he is 6-6 with a 4.75 ERA.
"There's nobody more frustrated than me," he said.