Pirates rookie Paul Skanes routinely hits triple digits, striking out 7 in big league debut vs. Cubs

The moment didn't look too big for Paul Skenes.

The top pitching prospect in baseball had a promising big league debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates, giving a glimpse of what's to come when he worked the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs on Saturday.

Skenes was charged with three runs in four-plus innings. He threw 17 pitches at 100 mph or more and struck out seven. He drew two walks and in the fourth gave up a homer to Nico Horner that went over the left-field wall and into the first row of bleachers.

As he walked off the field, the mustachioed 21-year-old received loud applause from a nearly sold-out crowd that included his even more famous girlfriend, LSU gymnast and social media influencer Livvie Dunn.

Skenes became the first Pirates pitcher 21 or younger to record at least seven strikeouts in his major league debut since Nick Maddox struck out 11 against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1907 — 95 years before Skenes was born.

The Pirates teased Skeens' call-up Wednesday with seven starts at Triple-A Indianapolis. His arrival has given PNC Park a playoff-like atmosphere, or at least what could feel like the playoffs 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 beyond the center field fence to try to catch the Skins' pregame routine. Nearby, the team store under the left field bleachers did a brisk business, with some picking up $200 for jerseys with Skenes' No. 30 stitched on the back.

Pirates' Paul Skenes records first MLB career strikeout on 101 MPH fastball

Watch Paul Skeness' first career strikeout on a 101-MPH fastball!

It's been a stunning rise for Skenes, from somewhat anonymous Air Force Academy cadet at LSU to potential franchise cornerstone in the 2023 draft to first overall pick to college World Series MVP. And yet he looked comfortable enough.

Skins, black socks pulled high against his white pants, confidently walked out of the dugout and bounded up the third-base line to begin what he compared to the end of one part of his life and the beginning of another.

A significant portion of the crowd stood, including right, as Skenes warmed up to Charles Wesley Godwin's “Q Country Roads.”

Then Chicago designated hitter Mike Tuchman stepped into the batter's box, and hype gave way to reality. Skenes unfurled his 6-foot-6 frame and threw a 101-mph fastball to Trotman with his funky delivery that plate umpire Paul Clemons called a ball.

Six pitches later, Trotman was walking back to the dugout after swinging another fastball — this time 100.9 mph — that he tipped off catcher Yasmani Grandal's mitt for Skenes' first strikeout.

His second came three pitches later.

Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki took a pair of called strikes — the second an 87 mph slider that Suzuki shook off — before flailing at another slider.

Chicago center fielder Cody Bellinger worked a walk, but after taking a ball that registered 101.9 mph, the fastest by a Pirates pitcher since Major League Baseball began tracking pitch speeds in 2008.

Skenes worked out the inning by getting Christopher Morrell to fly out to deep center. A walk, a hit batter and a single to second loaded the bases with one out. No matter what. Ian Gomes looked at a fastball, struck out, and Tuchman grounded out to second.

The next two innings were more of the same, with Skanes mixing in triple-digit fastballs — with offspeed stuff still going. Horner went deep on a swinging first-pitch slider.

Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton, who insisted the team would be aware of Skenes' workload, pulled the rookie after his pitch count reached 84 after a pair of hits by the Cubs to lead off the fifth. The runners scored later when reliever Kyle Nichols walked in a pair of runs.

Pirates general manager Ben Cherrington said hours before the first pitch that Skenes had nothing left to prove in the minors, even with the focus on the outfield.

“There's no reason to put any ceiling on (him),” Cherrington said. “It's going to be fun to watch that play out. That's all I can say. I'm very confident that's how he's thinking about it. That's the fun of it for him and other elite actors. It's finding a way. To find that next level.”

Reporting by the Associated Press.

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