The Pirates are sticking to the plan with Paul Skenes, even as pitching prospect dominates in minors

Wed, Apr 24, 2024
MLB News (AP)

The Pirates are sticking to the plan with Paul Skenes, even as pitching prospect dominates in minors

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Paul Skenes is looking every bit the ace the Pittsburgh Pirates thought they were getting when they selected the hard-throwing right-hander with the first overall pick in last year's draft.

Just don't expect Pirates general manager Ben Cherington to shift whatever internal timeline the club has on Skenes' arrival in Pittsburgh.

Yes, the 21-year-old has been electric at Triple-A Indianapolis, his fastball reaching triple digits with startling regularity. He was impressive again on Wednesday, allowing two runs (one earned) in 4 1/3 innings against Omaha while throwing 50 of his 71 pitches for strikes.

Skenes is clearing every hurdle the Pirates are putting in front of him. While his stuff looks ready for major-league hitters - Skenes has posted 34 strikeouts in 17 innings - Pittsburgh remains intent on bringing perhaps the most celebrated pitching prospect in 15 years along slowly.

"He's working on things that will allow him to be a good major league pitcher more than just he's trying to be a good AAA pitcher," Cherington said Wednesday.

That means not just overwhelming opponents with his fastball, but developing the rest of his expanding repertoire. Skenes has five different pitches at his disposal, including what is being called a "splinker," a mix between a splitter and a sinker.

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The 71 pitches Skenes threw on Wednesday were his most in a professional start, though Cherington declined to get into specifics on what threshold he'd like to see Skenes get to before deeming him ready for a call-up.

Pitching efficiently can be a challenge for someone who encourages so much swing-and-miss. Strikeouts also tend to run up pitch counts, though Cherington stressed he's not trying to turn Skenes into someone he's not.

"The guy that's gonna live on ground balls and nine-pitch innings, that may not be him," Cherington said. "It's efficiency related to who he is as a pitcher. That's what we're going after."

The Pirates have talked to other clubs about how to handle high-end pitching prospects, though Cherington said there is no real blueprint because every pitcher is different.

This slow, deliberate approach isn't limited to players in the minors. Pittsburgh has been intentional with dazzling rookie right-hander Jared Jones. The 22-year-old has recorded at least seven strikeouts in each of his first five starts while being mindful of his pitch count.

Last week against the Mets, that meant getting pulled after needing just 59 pitches to get through five innings. Jones threw 91 pitches in a win over Milwaukee on Monday, including remaining in the game with the bases loaded and the Brewers threatening in the sixth. Jones got out of it while improving his record to 2-2 and lowering his ERA to 2.79.

"We're trying to win games and it's that balance between the battle of the day and the war over the next six months - five, six months," Cherington said, later adding "We don't have any sort of secret, perfect recipe on how to do that, but we're trying to do the best we can every day."

While Quinn Priester could have started on Wednesday against Milwaukee on four days' rest, the team opted for a bullpen game instead so that Priester - in his second season in the majors - could get an extra two days of rest before facing San Francisco on Friday. Veteran Mitch Keller will take his regular turn in the rotation on Thursday.

"We're going to try to find as many times early in the season to build in days (between starts)," manager Derek Shelton said. "And we just felt like this is one we could build in."



WILL GRAVES Graves is a national writer for The Associated Press, based in Pittsburgh. He covers the NFL, MLB, NHL, the Olympics and major college sports. twitter facebook mailto "
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