The first tests for Cole Tucker at Class A Advanced would challenge his poise. The shortstop’s talent and potential are evident — they’re why the Pirates chose him in the first round of the 2014 MLB Draft. The jump up from Class A means a little bit more talent and a little bit more speed on the field.
The seventh inning Thursday tested the poise Tucker has been praised for. Tucker, the youngest and newest member of the Marauders, spent his frame scrambling around the basepaths, making split-second decisions, and contorting his athletic frame for tags and cross-diamond throws. He could have been overwhelmed in his fourth game in Bradenton during a chaotic inning with new teammates and little margin for error. Instead, he helped put the Marauders in position for a victory.
“It shows you his maturity,” manager Michael Ryan said.
Tucker stepped to the plate in the bottom of the frame with the bases loaded and waited outside the batter’s box while a new Cardinals pitcher warmed up. Landon Beck took his warm-up throws and then Tucker stepped in. He took one pitch, a ball above the top of the strike zone, then squared up the second. Palm Beach’s infield was playing in for a play at the plate and Tucker’s grounder squirted beneath the second baseman’s glove. Two runners charged home. The McKechnie Field crowd of 675 roared to life as Bradenton took the lead for good in an 8-3 win against St. Louis’ Florida State League affiliate in Bradenton.
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The seventh-inning strangeness continued after Tucker’s go-ahead single. The shortstop eventually scored on a single to right field by Jerrick Suiter, which was originally called a double. Home plate umpire JC Velez-Morales reversed the call, ruling fan interference, sending Suiter back to first base and turning his bases-clearing hit into a two-run single. Ryan protested and was thrown out of the game with his team leading 7-3.
“When they did change it, it was the wrong guy,” Ryan said. “The home plate umpire—it’s not his call, so that’s where I was upset.”
The five-run eruption in the seventh, though, was enough for the Marauders (29-24) to survive without its manager for the final two innings. Relief pitchers Jose Regalado (1-1) and Nick Neumann each threw two scoreless innings out of the bullpen to prop up starting pitcher Colten Brewer, who allowed three runs on six hits in five innings, and hold off the Cardinals.
Regalado’s second and final frame began with some shakiness. An error by third baseman Connor Joe put the lead-off runner on and a wild pitch moved shortstop Oscar Mercado to second with the top of the order coming up. Second baseman Darren Seferina smoked a grounder to second and Mercado was caught in a rundown.
Second baseman Kevin Kramer threw to Joe, who went back to Tucker. The newcomer twisted his body to place a tag on Mercado for the first out while Seferina scooted to second.
Third baseman Mason Katz came to the plate next and Seferina stole third. Katz rocketed another ground ball, this time to Tucker, who made another quick decision to throw home and cut down Seferina at the plate. Bradenton escaped to give Tucker the opportunity to bust the game open half an inning later and stretch the Marauders’ lead in the South division to two games.
“Especially being a shortstop I take a lot of pride in my defense,” Tucker said. “It’s the thing in my game that I feel like I bring at a high level every single day.”