Skenes stellar AGAIN, extends scoreless streak with 8-K outing

April 19th, 2024

INDIANAPOLIS -- Thursday night brought another start, and that meant more triple-digit heat, more strikeouts, more zeros in the runs column … and another relatively abbreviated outing for the top pitching prospect in baseball.

In his fourth outing of the young season, MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 overall prospect tied his professional career high with eight punchouts and worked around one hit and two walks over 3 1/3 innings in Triple-A Indianapolis' 6-5 victory over St. Paul at Victory Field.

The run extended Skenes’ season-opening scoreless streak to 12 2/3 frames. He’s also tied for the Minor League with 27 strikeouts after this most recent gem. The player he’s knotted with (Tacoma’s Jhonathan Diaz) has pitched 24 innings, nearly double Skenes’ total.

“It’s gone well,” said the Pittsburgh right-hander of the first few weeks of the campaign. “A little bit frustrating sometimes, but I mean, taking it slow is just how it goes. But it’s gone well.”

Skenes averaged 100.5 mph on his fastball and threw 100+ with 34 of his 43 total four-seamers. Since pitch tracking began in 2008, only Hunter Greene has thrown more triple-digit fastballs in a single Major League outing -- a feat the Reds right-hander has achieved six times. The 2023 No. 1 overall pick touched as high as 102.1 on a swinging third strike against veteran Tony Kemp (who was making his Twins organizational debut) in the second inning. That particular pitch was the fastest strikeout pitch at Triple-A measured by Statcast so far this season.

It wasn’t just the heater that made Skenes effective Thursday. Of the 11 whiffs elicited against the Saints, four came on the four-seamer, three on his mid-80s slider and three more on his upper-80s changeup. All three pitches had called-strike whiff rates of at least 33 percent. Anything above 30 percent is considered good.

“The nice thing about facing a lineup two times through is being able to set guys up and get guys out different ways,” Skenes said. “[I’m] trying to think through the game on that end.”

The strong performance still came in a fairly small sample.

Skenes’ 3 1/3 innings tied his season high as he’s still yet to complete four frames in a start in 2024, and he was finished after 65 pitches, a slight step up from his 55 last time out at Toledo on April 12 (another appearance in which he fanned eight over 3 1/3 scoreless innings).

The Pirates have purposefully slow-played Skenes’ start to his first full season out of the hope he can stay healthy and productive deep into this and future seasons.

“We don’t want to go from 0 to 100 right away,” Pittsburgh GM Ben Cherington said during a 93.7 The Fan appearance last weekend. “Paul’s so important to us long term, so we want to be really thoughtful about that.”

Knowing that’s the plan doesn’t quench the former LSU star's competitive juices, however. When Indianapolis manager Miguel Perez exited the dugout to pull him in the fourth, Skenes may have looked calm externally but internally was a different story.

“I wasn’t happy,” he said. “But it’s over his head. It’s over my head.”

In Skenes’ eyes, there is only one way to work through that frustration.

“Just have to compete,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do. It’s just about competing and executing.”

Skenes has certainly shown Major League-quality stuff and results in the early going in the International League, beginning with his 57.4 percent K rate through his first four starts. He also sports a 0.71 WHIP and didn’t allow an extra-base hit in Triple-A until Twins No. 23 prospect Yunior Severino’s second-inning double Thursday.

Skenes' biggest aim, at this point, isn’t to just produce spectacular numbers. It’s to work as deeply into games as he’s allowed to go.

“I’m really just trying to get through the innings efficiently,” he said. “The strikeouts are going to come. It’s my approach every time.”