PITTSBURGH (AP) — If the goal of swinging a bat is to hit the ball hard, then Oneil Cruz did it better than anyone.
The Pittsburgh Pirates rookie recorded the hardest-hit ball in the seven years that Major League Baseball has measured exit velocity, lashing a single that came off the bat at 122.4 mph in a 14-2 loss to Atlanta on Wednesday.
Cruz stepped 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 off the 21-foot high Clemente Wall in right field.
New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton previously had the record for the hardest-hit ball, reaching 122.2 mph in 2017 and again last year. MLB began tracking the metric in 2015.
“At the moment, I didn’t even think I hit the ball that hard,” said the 23-year-old Cruz. “When I came into the dugout, some of my teammates shared with me that I hit it 122 (mph). I smiled but deep down inside I was like, ‘Wow, I really hit that ball hard.’ Now, finding out that I broke a record, it means a lot to me. That’s something positive to take away from today’s game.”
Cruz initially thought the ball would clear the fence. Instead, it caromed to Atlanta right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. and Cruz had no shot at extra bases. Acuña might have had an outside shot to get Cruz at first if first baseman Matt Olson had been covering the bag.
“To be honest with you, I did think it was going to go out but I did notice that it was starting to go down and about to hit the fence, that’s when I started running even 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 is relying on the 6-foot-6 Cruz. He made a brief cameo at the end of last season before arriving in the majors to stay on June 20. He’s batting .199 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs.
Despite his early struggles, Cruz’s tools have impressed Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, who said he’s glad the ball hit the wall instead of going over it, where it might have hurt someone.
Cruz has been a StatCast darling since his debut. The shortstop made the hardest recorded assist by an infielder on July 14 when he fired the ball across the diamond at 97.8 mph.
“He’s got skills, my God,” Snitker said. “You start grading tools and it’s off the charts, you know, for a big guy. I mean, that’s going to be fun to watch.”