Pirates expect Paul Skenes to strike out 7 in MLB debut

PITTSBURGH — The moment didn’t seem like much to Paul Skanes.

The top pitching prospect in baseball had a promising big league debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates, working the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs on Saturday while offering a glimpse of things to come.

Skanes allowed three runs in four-plus innings. He threw 17 pitches at 100 mph or faster. He walked two and gave up a homer in the fourth to Nico Horner that reached the first row of bleachers beyond the left-field wall.

As he left the stadium, the mustachioed 21-year-old received a standing ovation from a near-sellout crowd that included famous girlfriend LSU gymnast and social media influencer Livvy Dunne.

He became the first Pirates pitcher 21 or younger to record at least seven strikeouts in his major league debut — 95 years before Skanes was born — since Nick Maddox struck out 11 against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1907.

The Pirates teased Scanes’ call-up on Wednesday after going through seven starts at Triple-A Indianapolis. His arrival gave PNC Park a playoff-like atmosphere, or something that could feel like the playoffs in mid-May for a team that hasn’t reached the postseason since 2015.

Fans lined up two and three deep behind the Pirates bullpen beyond the center-field fence to try to catch some of Skeens’ pregame routine. Nearby, the team store under the left-field bleachers did a brisk business, with some calling Skeens’ no. 30 back stitched jerseys cost up to $200.

Skeens’ giddiness rises from the first pick in the 2023 draft to the franchise cornerstone, the College World Series MVP at LSU, to the somewhat anonymous Air Force Academy cadet. And yet he looked so comfortable.

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Skeins high against his white pants, black socks pulled up, he confidently dug out and strolled over the third base line, beginning what he compared to the end of one phase of his career and the beginning of another.

A significant portion of the crowd, including Dunne, stood while the skits warmed up to Charles Wesley Godwin’s “Que Country Roads.”

Then Chicago designated hitter Mike Tachman stepped into the batter’s box, and the hype gave way to reality. Skenes unfurled his 6-foot-6 frame and, with his funky delivery, threw a 101-mph fastball to Trotman, and plate umpire Paul Clemons called a ball.

Six pitches later, Trautman was heading back to the dugout after swinging another fastball — this time at 100.9 mph — that he leaned into the middle of catcher Yasmani Crandall for the Skanes’ first strikeout.

His second was three pitches later.

Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki took a pair of strikes — the second an 87 mph slider that left Suzuki shaking his head — before flying in another slider.

Chicago center fielder Cody Bellinger drew a walk, but only after catching a ball clocked at 101.9 mph, the fastest by a Pirates pitcher since Major League Baseball began tracking pitch speeds in 2008.

Skanes got out of the inning by getting Christopher Morrell to fly out to deep center. A walk, a hit batter and a single in the second loaded the bases with one out. It doesn’t matter. Yan Gomes was thrown out on a fastball, and the Dutchman settled for second.

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The next two innings were more of the same, Scans still a work in progress mixing triple-digit fastballs with off-speed stuff. Horner went deep on a hanging first-pitch slider.

Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton insisted the team be mindful of Skeens’ workload, ejecting the rookie after his pitch count reached 84 following a pair of Cubs wins to finish fifth. The runners scored later when reliever Kyle Nichols walked in a pair of runs.

Pirates general manager Ben Cherrington said hours before the first pitch that Skenes had nothing to prove in the minors.

“There is no reason to put any ceiling [him],” Cherrington said. “That game will be fun to watch. That’s all I can say. I’m sure he thinks so. That’s the fun for someone like him and some other elite artists. It’s finding a way to find the next step.”

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