'That guy's pretty legit': Skenes' tour de force continues

June 23rd, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- was sensational yet again on Sunday. However, the Pirates' rookie right-hander wound up with a no-decision.

Skenes pitched one-run ball over a career-high seven innings, but the Rays scored twice in the eighth inning to rally for a 3-1 victory at PNC Park.

The Pirates (37-40) dropped two of three to the Rays (38-40) in the series.

The Rays’ lone run off Skenes came quickly, as Yandy Díaz hit the first pitch of the game, a fastball, off the right-field foul pole for his sixth home run of the season. Josh Lowe followed with a double, but Skenes left him stranded and the Rays were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position against the 22-year-old.

Skenes allowed six hits in his 98-pitch outing while striking out eight and walking one. He retired his final 11 batters, and his final pitch was a 101.5 mph fastball to strike out Alex Jackson.

“He was really good,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said of Skenes. “Obviously they came out with a game plan to attack the fastball, to attack the four-seamer. Right from jump street he gave up one run and it was on a ball that if it was two inches to the right it’s a foul ball. I mean, he threw the ball really well.”

Skenes certainly didn’t get rattled by the home run.

“I saw it up in the air and thought, ‘There is no way,’” Skenes said. “I didn’t think he hit it very hard. I didn’t notice which way the wind was blowing or anything like that. I’m not going to say that was the only reason, because he got that ball enough to hit it out, but I kind of just laughed when I saw it hit the foul pole. I was like, ‘Good for you.’”

A day earlier, Pirates rookie Jared Jones beat the Rays by holding them to two runs in seven innings.

"That guy's pretty legit,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said of Skenes. “Yandy’s home run, I’m happy for him. But [Skenes] is really talented. ... The last two guys that they’ve had, they're as good a 1-2 combination as we’ve maybe seen this year."

Skenes has 61 strikeouts, the seventh-most by an MLB pitcher through his first eight career appearances since at least 1901, according to research by MLB.com researcher and reporter Sarah Langs. Skenes follows Herb Score (77), Jose DeLeon (73), Kerry Wood (72), Stephen Strasburg (68), Masahiro Tanaka (66) and Nolan Ryan (64).

Skenes lowered his ERA to 2.14 and has allowed just eight walks. The only other pitcher in MLB history with at least 60 strikeouts and fewer than 10 walks through eight starts was Tanaka with the 2014 Yankees.

Skenes did get into a couple more jams but deftly escaped them.

The Rays loaded the bases in the third inning with one out, but Skenes got Isaac Paredes to ground into a double play. An inning later, the Rays had runners on first and second with one out, yet Skenes again thwarted the rally by striking out Taylor Walls and getting Jackson to fly out.

However, Colin Holderman (3-1) gave up two runs in the eighth inning as the Rays rallied. Holderman had a 0.68 ERA through 28 appearances entering the game and had not allowed multiple runs in an outing since his season debut.

Randy Arozarena snapped the tie with a sacrifice fly and Richie Palacios added insurance with an RBI single. Diaz and Lowe opened the inning with singles, the third hit of the day for both.

“It’s tough,” Holderman said. “That’s all I want to do: get in there and keep it going and give us a chance to win the ballgame. [Skenes] pitched his heart out, especially in the first inning -- he had some traffic and just dialed it in. That speaks to his maturity, especially for his age. He did his job. At the end of the day, he covered a lot of innings and helped the bullpen out. We just didn’t get it done in the back end.”

Bryan Reynolds led off the fourth inning with a home run, his 12th of the season, off Aaron Civale to tie the score at 1.

Reynolds had two of the Pirates’ three hits to run his hitting streak to 20 games. It is tied with Nate McLouth (2007-08) for the Pirates’ longest hitting streak in the last 20 years.