PITTSBURGH — If the purpose of swinging a bat is to hit the ball hard, then Oneil Cruz is better than anyone.
The Pittsburgh Pirates rookie recorded the hardest hit ball in the seven years that Major League Baseball has measured exit velocity, hitting a single off the bat at 122.4 mph in Wednesday’s 14-2 loss at Atlanta.
Cruz came in to face Braves starter Kyle Wright with one on and two outs in the third when he turned on a 91 mph fastball and smashed it past the 21-foot-high Clemente Wall in right field.
New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton previously held the record for the hardest hit ball, hitting 122.2 mph in 2017 and again last year. MLB began tracking the metric in 2015.
“Right now, I don’t think I hit the ball that hard,” said the 23-year-old Cruz. “When I walked into the dugout, some of my teammates shared with me that I hit it 122 (mph). I smiled but inside I was like, ‘Wow, I really hit that ball.’ Now, knowing I broke the record, it means a lot to me. That’s something positive to take away from the game today.”
At first Cruz thought the ball would clear the fence. Instead, it went to Atlanta right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and Cruz had no extra base shot. Acuna might have had an outside shot to get Cruz at first if first baseman Matt Olson had covered the bag.
“To be honest with you, I thought it was going to come out but I noticed that it was starting to go down and was about to hit the fence, that’s when I started running harder,” Cruz said. “But I did expect it to go out. I didn’t expect it to hit the wall and come right back.”
The Pirates are in the midst of a massive overhaul, one that relies on the 6-foot-6 Cruz. He made a brief cameo at the end of last season before coming to the majors to stay on June 20. He batted .199 with 10 homers and 30 RBI.
Despite his early struggles, Cruz’s tools impressed Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, who said he was glad the ball hit the wall instead of over it, where it might have hurt someone.
Cruz has been a Statcast darling since his debut. The shortstop made the hardest assist recorded by an infielder on July 14 when he blasted the ball across the diamond at 97.8 mph.
“He’s got the ability, my God,” Snitker said. “You start scoring tools and it’s off the charts, you know, for a big guy. I mean, that would be fun to watch.”