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Paul Skenes dominates Cubs in second-career start

“Enjoy him, Pittsburgh, he’s yours!”

That was super-excited Pirates radio play-by-play announcer Joe Block after rookie pitcher Paul Skenes struck out his 11th Cubs batter at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon.

The Cubs batter was Michael Trauchman, who was the final man Skenes faced before being lifted after six hitless innings in Pittsburgh’s 9-3 victory. Trauchman struck out three times on the day, as he, like every other Chicago hitter, had no answers for Skenes, who was making his second career start and second start vs. the Cubs.

Skenes’ first outing vs. the Cubs occurred six days earlier at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. And while the first overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft looked impressive, he was also a bit wild in what would eventually be a wacky, rain-soaked, 10-9, victory for the Buccos.

Perhaps Skenes was nervous in his first start, which might have explained the less-than-stellar command, but there were no signs of jitters on Friday afternoon in the Windy City.

Just how dominant was Skenes? He fanned the first seven Cubs batters he faced, the second-highest amount to start a game for a rookie pitcher in MLB history. The Astros Jim Deshaies (1986) and the Mets Jacob deGrom (2014) each began a start with eight straight strikeouts during their rookie seasons.

Skenes retired the first 13 Chicago hitters before walking Michael Busch with one out in the fifth inning.

Busch was the only hitter to reach base vs. Skenes, who threw 100 pitches on the day–including 67 for strikes–and was clocked at 100 mph or more on 12 of them.

Skenes exited the game with an 8-0 advantage, and unlike his debut on May 11, the Pirates bullpen was able to protect the lead, as Carmen Mlodzinski, Ryder Ryan and Hunter Stratton combined to allow four hits and three runs over the final three innings.

It was obviously the first career victory for Skenes, who is now 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA. He’s pitched a combined 10 innings in his first two starts while striking out 18 batters and allowing three earned runs.

In addition to a dominant pitching performance by the rookie Skenes, it was nice to see the Pirates’ offense continue to show signs of life. Third baseman Jared Triolo drove in three runs on Friday–including two on a two-run home run in the top of the third inning. Catcher Yasmani Grandal also drove in three runs, while veteran Andrew McCutchen capped off Pittsburgh’s scoring with a solo shot in the top of the eighth inning.

While it’s still very early, you may be starting to see the effect Skenes is having on what was already a promising Pirates starting rotation.

Mitch Keller, the Pirates defacto ace coming into the season, went six strong innings in a win at Milwaukee on Monday night. After struggling a bit to start the 2024 campaign, Keller, an All-Star a season ago, has allowed one earned run over his last two starts and now has an ERA of 3.93.

Jared Jones, like Skenes, a hard-throwing rookie, pitched six innings in a 5-4 victory on Thursday night to begin this four-game series at Wrigley Field.

The Pirates came into this seven-game road trip needing to, at minimum, keep their heads above water. Pittsburgh went 4-5 on its most recent homestand–including a combined 3-3 vs. the lowly Rockies and Angels.

Honestly, things were looking rather dire after losing two of three to the Cubs at PNC Park last weekend. But the Pirates are now 3-2 on this road trip and have taken the first two of the four-game series at Wrigley. Pittsburgh is now 21-25 and six games back of the Brewers in the National League Central Division.

It’s obviously still very early in the 2024 season, but the Pirates now look like they have a starting rotation that can be as dominant as any in baseball. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the three arms they’re counting on the most–Keller, Jones and Skenes–were the starters in every victory on this current road trip.

Some said Keller, 28, was miscast as the Pirates ace coming into the season, but how would he look as a number three starter? That’s what he’ll be if Jones, who has struck out 63 batters in 53 innings, continues to impress as a rookie.

There is no question that Skenes is the Pirates’ ace. Yes, it’s early. Yes, he’s only had two starts, but he sure does look like an ace, doesn’t he?

I do know this: Paul Skenes belongs to Pittsburgh right now, and the rest of Major League Baseball is going to have to deal with him for the foreseeable future.


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