What we've learned about Skenes after an amazing first month

June 12th, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- We are officially one month into ’ Major League career. He arrived to the Majors on May 11, and on Tuesday, June 11, he tossed a career-high 6 1/3 innings over 103 pitches -- also a career-high -- at Busch Stadium. The Pirates’ offense broke through in the ninth, and they would go on to win, 2-1.

We already knew plenty about the game’s top pitching prospect, but what else have we learned about Skenes this month?

1. The league is taking notice

When Skenes was pulled in the seventh, something peculiar happened as the rookie phenom walked back to the dugout. A handful of local fans rose to give him a round of applause.

"I'll be honest, I didn't really notice it in the moment,” Skenes said. “I was kind of just pissed that I gave up a hit. ... But I got a text about it, and looking back, I realized what happened. It was cool. They're cool fans."

2. He’s got some tricks up his sleeve

Skenes’ velocity is the first thing that usually stands out when he’s on the mound, and he hit triple digits seven times on Tuesday. The fastball wasn’t his most effective pitch Tuesday, though. That would be the curveball.

Coming into the night, Skenes had thrown just 18 curveballs over his first five starts. He threw 20 Tuesday, including as strike-three offerings to the first two batters of the game. He would wind up getting four whiffs and four called strikes with the curve, resulting in three strikeouts.

Skenes came into the season wanting to throw all five of his pitches -- the four-seamer, slider, curve, changeup and his “splinker,” the sinker-splitter hybrid -- but this was the first time he showed in a Major League game that he could use them all to get hitters out.

"I think a little bit of it is learning how to pitch at this level and how hitters are reacting to myself,” Skenes said. “It's cool with each outing [to] just learn about how hitters are looking at my stuff, attacking me. To be able to have more tools is a good thing."

3. He’s a strike thrower

It’s pretty common for young pitchers to come up to the Majors and issue walks, even if they never had control problems in the Minors. It’s a different class of hitters, and there’s an adjustment period for all.

But Skenes has been pretty relentless in how he’s attacked the zone, not issuing a walk Tuesday and throwing 17 strikes on his first 19 pitches. In the Modern Era of baseball, he and Mashahiro Tanaka (2014) are the only pitchers to strike out at least 45 with six or fewer walks over their first six appearances.

Those walk and strikeout numbers are not necessarily command-oriented, though.

“I think command is a little overblown,” Skenes said. “I think control is more how it actually goes, especially when you're throwing hard, [where] frankly it's kind of tougher to command pitches. So control [is paramount], if that difference makes sense."

4. He and Mitch Keller have a routine

Skenes doesn’t sit in the dugout between innings, opting to go into the tunnel instead.

“It's just how I am,” Skenes explained. “I guess I'm in the zone.”

Mitch Keller knows that, but he has made it a point to say hi and make sure Skenes acknowledges him after every inning, just to keep things light. It’s gotten the usually serious Skenes to crack smiles mid-start.

Skenes did forget to do so early Tuesday, but around the third he remembered to at least shoot Keller a nod or high-five.

5. He’s risen to the challenge

The one inning Skenes needed to get out of a jam Tuesday was the fifth, when he allowed two singles to start the frame. With no room for margin considering the Bucs' offense was being no-hit, Skenes struck out Matt Carpenter and Pedro Pagés before getting Michael Siani to bounce out to end the inning.

“To get out of the first and third situation with nobody out, we continue to see growth out of Paul,” said manager Derek Shelton.

It was a clutch moment, and Skenes couldn’t remember the sequences, but Connor Joe took notice.

"Man, I think he's another one that's not afraid to throw any pitch in any situation,” Joe said. “Especially when he needs a pitch, he's just not timid up there. Everything's moving a different way. From the side, it's low. He's really fun to watch compete."