Skenes shines bright light on Pirates’ future

On May 11, I was down in Pittsburgh’s North Shore between PNC Park and Acrisure Stadium with a few friends preparing for the Pirates’ game later that day when a young kid, no older than 9 or 10, who was dressed in a blank generic Pirates jersey with an oversized Pirates hat, walked by me.

Normally, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it as it’s a common occurrence down in the North Shore. Families go to ball games all the time. But what caught my eye was the big and fluffy, caterpillar-like mustache under this young man’s nose. I chuckled and pointed it out to my friend.

It wasn’t the first fake mustache we would see that day as MLB’s top pitching prospect Paul Skenes was about to make his professional debut for the Pirates in front of jam-packed PNC Park. The energy was electric in the North Shore that day. People were cheering, burgers and hot dogs were sizzling on grills and music was playing. It was almost as if people were realizing that Skenes could lead the Pirates into a bright future.

If indeed that’s what they were thinking, they’d be right.

Skenes, the former No. 1 pick in the MLB draft and College World Series MVP at LSU, was electric in his first start, at least at the beginning. He threw four innings, allowed six hits, was credited for three earned runs, walked two and gave up one home run.

You may look at those numbers and think they aren’t necessarily eye-popping and you’d be right. However, Skenes also struck out seven, including the first two hitters he faced, and threw a fastball that reached 100 mph at least 17 times, which is tied for the third-most by any player in his season debut since 2008. His fastball’s average velocity was also 100.1 mph, the highest of any Pirates starter since 2008.

Skenes could chalk up the inconsistency in his debut to nerves maybe, but the whole world got a glimpse of what he’s truly capable of in his second start.

At the famous Wrigley Field in Chicago, Skenes took the Cubs by storm throwing six innings of no-hit ball while striking out 11 and walking one. He threw 100 pitches and his final pitch of the game was clocked at 100 mph.

If that’s not electrifying, I do not know what is.

Skenes was scheduled to make his third start Thursday against the San Francisco Giants at the time I was writing this column. I’m expecting he’ll put on another show because he’s the type of player who shows no fear when staring down an opposing lineup. He has top-tier stuff and he knows it.

When asked by Pittsburgh Sportsnet how he was planning to deal with hitters adjusting to him now that they had more film on him at both the Triple-A and the major league levels, Skenes simply said, “Go ahead and adjust. Good luck.”

To be one of the best in the game, that’s the type of mindset you have to have and it’s enticing to watch.

The Pirates have been through so much over the years and haven’t made the playoffs since an exciting three-year stretch between 2013 and 2015. Since that 2015 season, they’ve only topped 80 wins once and finished fourth or fifth in the division in seven of the last eight years.

However, that bleakness may be over as Skenes signifies a bright light for the future of the organization.

On top of his star power, Skenes has the potential to lead one of the best starting rotations in baseball.

While the Pirates have a team ERA of 3.90, Skenes, 21, and Jared Jones, 22, have ERAs of 2.70 and 2.89, respectively. Obviously, Skenes’ ERA is only through two starts, but Jones has thrown 53 innings this year and has recorded a team-high 63 strikeouts.

Mitch Keller, 28, a former second-round pick out of high school, should figure in as the third starter moving forward if he can stay consistent. The trio could solidify the rotation and carry it into the future, creating a very solid foundation for an exciting team.

Although the offense is something that the Pirates still need to figure out, Skenes and his electric repertoire are shining a bright light on the organization’s future, and it’s fun to watch.

Have an interesting story? Email Greg Macafee at gmacafee@tribtoday.com or follow him on X at @greg_macafee.


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