Pirates’ Paul Skenes strikes out 7 Cubs over 4 innings in MLB debut

Skenes was lifted in the top of the fifth inning after 84 pitches

The much-anticipated MLB debut for Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitcher Paul Skenes brought energy to PNC Park on Saturday.

The 21-year-old LSU product, who is the top-ranked pitching prospect in MLB, held the Chicago Cubs to one run through four innings and was lifted in the top of the fifth with the Pirates up 6-1.

Skenes struck out seven, walked two and allowed three earned runs and six hits over 84 pitches in his first outing in the big leagues. The first run he allowed came on a Nico Hoerner home run in the fourth inning.

After a two-plus-hour rain delay, the bullpen let Skenes down, recording six run-scoring walks that gave Chicago the lead as part of a seven-run fifth inning. Then the Pirates fought back and took back the lead thanks to a Yasmani Grandal home run in the bottom of the fifth en route to a 10-9 victory.

Pirates fans and baseball fans had been waiting for Skenes to finally get called up to the major leagues. And on Wednesday, it happened, and a packed PNC Park gathered early in anticipation for his debut.

Crowds formed around the Pirates’ bullpen before the game to watch Skenes warm up. He rewarded those in attendance right off the bat by striking out the first two hitters he faced: Mike Tauchman and Seiya Suzuki.

Tauchman went down swinging with a full count on a 101 mph fastball.

Paul Skenes strikes out the first batter he faces! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/MUkwo60lKa — MLB (@MLB) May 11, 2024

Suzuki, who went down on a 99 mph fastball in the second at-bat, got to experience Skenes’ slider, which was absolutely nasty, in his first plate appearance.

Paul Skenes, Wicked 84mph Slider. 🤢

15 inches of Break. pic.twitter.com/DMrEj07DnD — Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 11, 2024

Comparisons with Strasburg

The regular comparison for Skenes has been former Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg. The similarities begin with their size and overpowering fastballs. They both dominated hitters at the college level and later in the minor leagues.

Strasburg’s MLB debut in 2010 was anticipated around baseball, much like when Skenes took the ball for his first start on Saturday.

(As MASN’s Mark Zuckerman noted, Andrew McCutchen was the leadoff hitter Saturday, just as he was for Strasburg’s first MLB outing.)

Watching Skenes reminds me of facing Strasburg after his call-up. I took a fastball in my first at-bat, looked up, and saw ‘100’ on the board. I thought, ‘Uh oh.’ The next pitch? The best curveball I’d ever seen—gulp. Same could be said about the changeup later. I was like, 😕.… — Joey Votto (@JoeyVotto) May 11, 2024

Skenes’ dominance led to call-up 10 months after being drafted

Skenes had a quick journey from being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft to making his Pirates debut. His wait of 10 months, 2 days wasn’t as fast as the 96 days it took fellow LSU Tiger Ben McDonald, the No. 1 pick in the 1989 draft, to make it to The Show, but it was worth the wait.

Skenes earned his call-up after seven starts at Triple-A Indianapolis this season. He threw 27 1/3 innings and recorded 45 strikeouts, with only eight walks, and a 0.99 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. He also held opponents to a .175 batting average.

The Pirates were waiting to see signs that Skenes could be ready for a call-up heading into this season, and he delivered in each and every outing in the minors.

“He felt confident that he could come up and help us win games,” said Pirates general manager Ben Cherington on Thursday, one day after Skenes was called up. “Really as simple as that, and as we said going back to spring training, most of the time it was going to be him telling us. Not all of it, because we were in control of some of the scheduling and volume, so not all of it was up to him. But most of it was going to be up to him, and I think he told us pretty loud and clear that he was ready.”

Skenes said during his Friday media session that he just wants to put the Pirates “in a position to win.” His presence, along with that of fellow rookie pitcher Jared Jones, has energized not only the team’s rotation but also the fan base in Pittsburgh, which hasn’t seen a winning record since 2018 and has not seen playoff baseball since 2015, when Skenes was 13 years old.

Pirates fans are hoping Saturday was the beginning of a future that sees winning baseball return to the city.

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