All you need to know for Skenes' encore today, FREE on MLB.TV

May 17th, 2024

CHICAGO -- made his first Major League start on Saturday, perhaps the most anticipated debut for a pitching prospect in Pirates history.

So what’s on deck for his second start? Skenes will be facing the Cubs again, but this time it will be held at the historic Wrigley Field. Here is what you need to know for the game’s No. 2 prospect's encore.

When is the game and how can we watch it?

First pitch between the Pirates and Cubs on Friday is slated for 1:20 p.m. CT. The game will be MLB.TV’s Free Game of the Day and will also be broadcast on MLB Network in addition to the regional broadcasts on SportsNet Pittsburgh and Marquee Sports Network. For those in the area, tickets are available.

What did we learn from Skenes in his MLB debut?

The short answer is, we learned that his stuff plays at the Major League level. He admitted after his first start that his fastball wasn’t quite as sharp as normal, leading to more misses and walks than he’s accustomed to, but seven strikeouts over four-plus innings certainly leaves an impression. He topped 100 mph 17 times on his 84 pitches, including a 101.9 mph pitch, which was the fastest offering ever recorded by any Pirate in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008).

Skenes isn’t just reliant on that velocity, and he has shown he can also get hitters out with his slider, changeup, curveball and “splinker.” It’s a full arsenal that has helped make him a promising young pitcher.

“I think he'll learn from [his first start] and be able to build off it, but overall, the stuff is really good," said manager Derek Shelton.

What exactly is a “splinker”?

That’s a hybrid pitch of Skenes’ creation, part splitter, part sinker. (It classifies as a splitter on pitch-tracking leaderboards and dashboards.) It gets the vertical bite of a splitter, but comes in at around 95 mph, giving him a combination of velocity and movement that's almost unheard of. The Cubs swung at it 12 times in his debut and whiffed on seven.

Here's more on the “splinker” and what makes it unique.

What was quotable from his debut?

Catcher Yasmani Grandal: "I mean, he seems [to have] like a slow heartbeat. That's pretty much what he looks like. I don't think the moment's ever too big for him. ... I thought it was a good game for him. But, we're looking forward to seeing what else he's got."

Closer David Bednar: “He’s very special on the mound out there, man. A lot of stuff he can do with the baseball that’s really impressive.”

Skenes on pitching in front of the PNC Park crowd: “It was really cool. Everybody talks about this stadium. It's an awesome stadium, awesome skyline. Fans are awesome. It was an awesome day."

Will he be on a pitch count in this start?

Most likely, though the team will not share specifics. Skenes threw 84 pitches in his first start, which was a personal high as a professional. The Pirates have been very mindful of his workload, slowly building him up with Triple-A Indianapolis before his promotion last week. It would be reasonable to assume he could continue to build that pitch count up more for this start, but don’t expect a 110-pitch complete game.

What is the Pirates’ plan to stretch him out?

Slow and steady. Skenes threw 122 2/3 innings with Louisiana State University last year, and even with a taste of pro ball afterwards, he didn’t quite crack 130 innings. He’s likely going to eclipse that mark at some point this year, so the Pirates are going to be careful not to overload him too much. The amount of off-days over the next four weeks gives Pittsburgh an opportunity to pitch him with an extra day of rest in between for roughly a month. That certainly will help.

No dumb questions ...

Why is there so much attention on him?
Skenes is currently ranked as the No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline, and he is widely regarded to be the sport’s top pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg over a decade ago.

How do I pronounce his name?
Emphasize the first “E.” SKEE-nz

How old is he?
Skenes was born May 29, 2002. He will be the first Pirate since Sean Burnett in 2004 to make multiple starts before his 22nd birthday.

How did the Pirates get him?
The Pirates took him first overall in the 2023 MLB Draft.