Clear
102.9 ° F
Full Weather
Sponsored By:

Pirates rookie Paul Skenes needed just 10 electrifying starts to enter the All-Star conversation

Sponsored by:

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Paul Skenes does seemingly everything fast, whether it’s throwing a baseball or sprinting through the minor leagues.

Establishing himself as a legitimate major league ace has been no different.

It’s taken all of 10 starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates rookie with the 100 mph fastball and trademark mustache to become appointment viewing.

“Obviously, every time he pitches, you know it’s a big day,” New York Mets manager Carlos Mendoza said Friday afternoon a few hours before his team faced Skenes for the first time.

The 22-year-old then went out and overpowered the Mets, improving to 5-0 after throwing seven occasionally dominant innings in a 14-2 victory.

The second sellout crowd of the season at PNC roared at each of Skenes’ eight strikeouts, then stuck around long after things had been decided to revel in the kind of joy that’s starting to become commonplace whenever the 6-foot-6 Skenes lopes to the mound.

“You could feel the energy in the ballpark tonight,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “They were into it. Even late in the game when it was 14-2 they were still up on their feet. You get a situation like that sometimes where crowds will leave and they were all here and cheering and I thought that was really cool.”

Skenes, in typical fashion, downplayed his role in it. He semi-joked everyone was there for the free Pirate-themed Hawaiian shirt giveaway, not to see how he would fare against a team that entered the night tied for the second-best record in the majors since May 29.

The reality is Skenes has grown used to finding himself in the middle of a frenzy.

A similar phenomenon happened during his lone season at LSU in 2023, when he morphed from a hard-throwing curiosity after transferring in from the Air Force Academy into the top overall pick in the draft, leading the Tigers to a national title in the process.

“The cool thing is it’s not, you know, it’s not just me because we’ve got some studs in this pitching staff,” Skenes said.

Maybe, but Jared Jones, Mitch Keller and Martin Perez don’t have the novelty T-shirt business booming. They haven’t thrown 74 pitches of at least 100 mph like Skenes has, more than double anyone else in the majors this season. They don’t have an influencer girlfriend ( Livvy Dunne ) who is using her massive social media platform to highlight a player (and a league) that could use a boost.

And — perhaps most importantly — they haven’t provided the kind of potentially franchise-altering jolt that has accompanied Skenes’ since his arrival on May 11. He was nervous and a little off that day, something he’s rarely been since.

Skenes is 3-0 with a 1.68 ERA since June 5, a stretch that began with a showdown against Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani and continued on Friday by overcoming some early control issues to retire 11 of the final 12 batters he faced, including striking out Harrison Bader with an 87 mph slider on his 107th and final pitch to end the top of the seventh.

While Skenes celebrated with a fist pump before making his way to the dugout, it’s what happens when Skenes isn’t on the field that stands out to his teammates. Skenes will dip into a room below the dugout between innings to make tweaks. On Friday that included realizing he might have been coming out of his delivery a little too quickly, making it hard to command all those triple-digit fastballs.

So he improvised, relying heavily on his “splinker” (a hybrid of a splitter and a sinker) and his other breaking pitches to keep the Mets off balance.

“That’s why it’s nice to have five pitches, cause if one’s not there then you pitch with the rest of them,” he said. “Fastball was absolutely not there early in the game. So made do with the other stuff.”

And the “other stuff” is more than good enough to get by. So is Skenes’ mature approach. He turned 22 at the end of May. He’s been in the majors less than two months, yet he certainly looks the part of an All-Star, maybe even this year.

The pitching rosters for the Midsummer Classic will be revealed on Sunday. The idea of Skenes facing Aaron Judge, Juan Soto and the rest of the American League lineup has crossed his mind once or twice.

“I’d love to be there,” he said. “But it’s obviously not my decision to make.”

Maybe, but Shelton believes the work Skenes has put in merits consideration.

“I do think with the numbers he has, the numbers he’s put up, I bet he’s going to enter the conversation,” Shelton said.

The conversation got a little more interesting after Skenes put on another show against the Mets, exiting to a standing ovation that served as the exclamation point of the juice he’s brought to a franchise that’s spent the vast majority of the last three decades in the wilderness.

Maybe not anymore. Skenes showed up in Pittsburgh as perhaps the most heralded pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg debuted in Washington 14 years ago. Over the last two months, all Skenes has done is deliver on the hype, and then some.

“Just shows up, does his thing and doesn’t get rattled,” outfielder Bryan Reynolds said. “He just competes. His stuff plays, obviously. He’s special.”

___

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

Feedback