Pirates' Oneil Cruz eyes late summer return from broken ankle

PITTSBURGH -- Oneil Cruz's days in crutches are numbered. Ditto for the walking boot used to protect the broken left ankle suffered during an awkward slide home in early April..

Recovery for the 24-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop remains on track, meaning he could return sometime late this summer, barring any setbacks.

Cruz's left leg rolled up underneath him after he collided with Chicago White Sox catcher Seby Zavala. He had surgery the next day, and the team optimistically said it expected him to miss four months, a timeline it has not deviated from as his rehab reaches the halfway point.

"You never want to get hurt, obviously, but that's part of the game and it happens to me," Cruz said through an interpreter. "I'm just going to take it the way it is and get better as soon as possible."

The Pirates entered play Saturday at 29-27, a half-game back of Milwaukee for first place in the NL Central.

The club has used a handful of players at short to fill in for Cruz -- Rodolfo Castro, Tucupita Marcano, Ji Hwan Bae and Chris Owings -- but none possesses his unique mix of size, power and speed.

"Every time I see them doing well, it makes me happy," Cruz said.

Cruz believes he is poised to come back stronger than he was before the injury, and the Pirates have been adamant that the hope is he'll return this season.

"I should be good when I get out there because when I go out there, I understand I'm not going to hesitate," Cruz said. "I'm just going to go out there and do my best."