Pirates prospect Paul Skenes allows 3 runs, shows impressive stuff in hyped big-league debut

PITTSBURGH – About 40 minutes before the first pitch of Saturday's game between the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, the clouds that had covered PNC Park suddenly broke into darkness, bringing the first moments of sunlight all afternoon. Moments later, one of the most hyped prospects in recent memory made his first appearance in a Pirates uniform, coming out of the home dugout on his way to the outfield to begin tossing long before his highly anticipated major-league debut.

Paul Skenes was greeted by a group of spectators crowded into the sections around left-center, many of whom had posted up early to catch a glimpse of the 21-year-old phenom who has been a hit with many people around baseball. Let's hope for a bright light. A franchise whose recent history is not full of much.

In his first major-league start, the 2023 No. 1 pick showed why there is more excitement around his arrival than any pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg in 2009. Skenes pitched four innings, striking out seven Cubs hitters and giving up three runs, six hits and two walks in what would ultimately be a 10–9 Pirates victory.

Skenes struck out the first two batters he faced, getting them in a full count before defeating Cubs leadoff hitter Mike Tauchman with a 100.9 mph four-seam fastball. He changed his approach to Seiya Suzuki, taking him on three pitches – a sprinkler followed by two sliders. He gave up his first major-league baserunner after walking Cody Bellinger, but not before receiving a standing ovation from the PNC Park crowd after reaching a 1–2 count.

The first moments of adversity came in the bottom of the second, when Skenes loaded the bases by striking out Nico Horner, walking Michael Bush on four pitches and then allowed the first hit of his career, a line-drive single to right by Miles Mastrobuoni lines out a slider up the middle. The Skanes bounced back by striking out Yan Gomes and were aided by a fancy defensive play by second baseman Nick Gonzales on a deep grounder by Tauchman.

Skenes advanced to the top of the third. In the fourth, he gave up his first run when Nico Hoerner hit a slider just over the wall in left field. But Skenes completed his debut by dismissing Bush and Gomes. He faced two hitters in the top of the fifth – after giving up two hits – before taking a 6–1 lead and exiting to a standing ovation.

Skenes ended his day with a total of 84 pitches, nine more than his season-high of 75 in a six-inning performance for Indianapolis on April 30. 17 of them had speeds in excess of 100 mph, although he admitted that his command 'was as good as he would have liked.'

“My stuff was great. “I've got to keep getting the hitters going,” Skenes said. “I think it will come.”

Pirates manager Derek Shelton agreed.

,“I think he was a little overexcited, because the fastball command wasn't as sharp as I had seen,” Shelton said. “Overall, stuff moves and it's good.”

While Skenes' debut was the highlight, the game somehow became more interesting after he left the mound.

Reliever Kyle Nichols replaced Skeens and struck out the first two batters he faced before striking out Ian Happ and walking the next three batters, giving Skeens an earned run. Josh Fleming came in after Nicholls and gave up another walk, before Tauchman tied the game at 6–6 on an infield single to shortstop. And then, as if on cue, the sky went dark as the game was delayed by lightning with two outs in the top of the fifth. After a two-hour and 20-minute rain delay, Pirates reliever Colin Holderman came in and walked two more runs, giving him the most bases-loaded walks in an MLB inning since 1959.

“It's one of those things he'll get better at,” Shelton said of Nicholls' poor outing. “This process probably took a year or two of my life.”

It was easy to see Skane's start and nearly three-hour fifth inning as a learning experience, when the Pirates bounced back on Yasmani Grandal's three-run homer in the bottom of the frame and added Andrew McCutchen's solo shot in the sixth. , Grandal, who recently returned from a rehabilitation stint at Triple-A Indianapolis, caught Skenes in a game just last month.

“It wasn't as good as I've seen him,” Grandal said of Skenes' outing. “But I hold him to high standards. Today he didn't have everything there but he was still able to overcome it, that was huge.”

Pirates general manager Ben Cherrington did not specify earlier Saturday whether the Skanes would have a pitching or innings limit for the game or the season — “We're not going to announce that. That'll be Shelty's (Pirates manager Derek Shelton's) decision” – noting they are tracking volume for each pitcher on their roster.

“The goal is to get Paul in a position where he can build appropriately this season to the point where he has enough volume to come in and make a big league debut in a way that doesn't burden him too much . A bullpen,” Cherington said. “We think he's at that point and we'll continue to monitor it from here. Our hope is that we can do it in a way that allows him to be an active pitcher for the rest of the season.” Can.

Despite Skane's record of success so far in his career – a College World Series title, the fourth pitcher to win first overall in Pirates history, and 12 minor-league starts where he averaged 55 strikeouts in 35 innings, Posted a combined 1.85 ERA. – Shelton suggested that immediate expectations for the right people should be tempered.

“Let him go out and pitch and do his thing,” Shelton said before the game. “There will come a time when the game will humble him the same way it has humbled everybody who has played the game at this level, whether you're a Hall of Famer or two days in the big leagues. The biggest thing I would ask is that we all together let Paul Skenes be Paul Skenes.”

But even before his debut, Skenes was already making his mark on his new city. A rack containing hundreds of $200 replica “Skeins 30” jerseys was strategically placed in the stadium store. An employee noted that they had ordered twice as many before this game as they did for Pirates franchise veteran Andrew McCutchen's first game with the team in 2023. In the city's Strip District neighborhood, skeined T-shirts were mixed with current local specialties. Sports superstars TJ Watt and Sidney Crosby while their likenesses hovered over cheese platters in an Italian grocery store.

Skenes, who personally hugged a long line of family members and girlfriend Olivia Dunn outside the Pirates clubhouse after the game, will likely also make his second major league start against the Cubs. The Pirates, who Cherington says will likely maintain a six-man rotation during their upcoming road trip, will likely make the Skans' next start in the middle of a four-game series at Wrigley next weekend.

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(Top photo by Paul Skenes: Justin Burl/Getty Images)

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