Pirates prospect Paul Skines strikes out seven in his MLB debut

PITTSBURGH — The moment hardly seemed too big for Paul Skines.

The top-ranked outfielder in baseball had a promising major league debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates, working a fifth-inning home run against the Chicago Cubs on Saturday while offering a glimpse of what might be to come.

Skenes was charged with three runs in four extra innings. He struck out seven, and threw 17 pitches at 100 mph or more. He also walked two and gave up a homer to Nico Hoerner in the fourth who had just reached the first row of the bleachers behind the left field wall.

As he walked off the court, the mustachioed 21-year-old received a huge round of applause from a near-full crowd that included his most famous girlfriend, LSU gymnast and social media influencer Livvie Dunn.

Skinnes became the first Pirates player aged 21 or younger to record at least seven hits in his major league debut since Nick Maddox recorded 11 against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1907 — 95 years before Skinnis was born.

The Pirates called up Skines on Wednesday after he pitched in seven games at Triple-A Indianapolis. His arrival at PNC Park gave off a playoff-like atmosphere, or at least as much as the playoffs could feel 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 behind the center field fence to try to catch some of Skenes’ pregame routine. Nearby, the team store below the left field bleachers did brisk business, with some paying up to $200 for jerseys with Skines’ No. 30 stitched on the back.

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It’s been an incredible rise for Skenes from a somewhat unknown student at the Air Force Academy to College World Series MVP at LSU to be selected first in the 2023 draft for a potential franchise cornerstone. However, he looked very comfortable.

Skines, wearing black socks pulled up over his white pants, confidently emerged from the dugout and leapt over the third base line to begin what he likened to the end of one part of his life and the beginning of another.

A large portion of the audience, including Dunn, stood as Skinnis warmed up as Charles Wesley Goodwin’s “Cue Country Roads” blared over the speakers.

Then Chicago designated hitter Mike Tauchman stepped into the batter’s box, and the hype gave way to reality. Skines lofted his 6-foot-6 frame and with his unorthodox delivery fired a 101 mph fastball to Trautman that plate umpire Paul Clemons called a ball.

Six pitches later, Trautman was walking back to the dugout after swinging at another fastball — 100.9 mph this time — as he threw off the glove of catcher Yasmani Grandal for Skines’ first at-bat.

The second was followed three throws later.

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

Chicago center fielder Cody Bellinger took a walk, but only after taking a ball that clocked 101.9 mph, the fastest recorded by a Pirates pitcher since Major League Baseball began tracking pitch speed in 2008.

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Skines got the run out 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 Gomez struck out looking at the fastball, and Tauschman grounded out to second.

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

Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton, who stressed that the team would remain mindful of Skines’ workload, took the rookie out after his pitch count reached 84 following a pair of strikeouts by the Cubs to lead off the fifth. The Racers later scored when reliever Kyle Nicholas walked a pair of runs.

Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said a few hours before the first pitch that Skinnes had nothing left to prove in the minors, even with the intense attention he received every step of the way.

“There is no reason to put any cap [him]”It’ll be fun to watch,” said Sherrington. That’s all I can say. I’m pretty sure that’s the way he thinks about it. That’s the fun for someone like him and some other elite artists. It’s finding a way to find the next level.”

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