How Pirates plan to manage their electric duo's workload

June 22nd, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- This weekend, the Pirates are going to again turn the ball over to two top-flight rookies: on Saturday and Sunday. It’s one of the most exciting young starter duos the organization has ever boasted, and their contributions are a big reason why they find themselves in the National League’s playoff picture halfway through the season.

There’s also an elephant in the room with both of these pitchers that needs to be addressed. They are both on pace to blow past their previous innings totals.

Skenes threw 129 1/3 innings between his time at Louisiana State University and his brief cameos in pro ball last season, the first time he ever threw 100 competitive innings in a season. Jones maxed out at 126 1/3 innings a year ago between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis. So far this season, Jones has thrown 79 innings and Skenes 66 2/3 between his time in the Majors and Minors. At their current paces, both could wind up throwing over 160 innings, which would be roughly a 30 percent increase over the previous year.

The Pirates want both to experience pitching through a full season and there aren’t firm lines in the sand that they don’t want either pitcher to cross this year, but some workload management is likely going to be needed.

“It’s a conversation that’s ongoing and that we started with them really back in Spring Training, acknowledging that the goal was to put them in a position to be active pitchers for a full season, to contribute for a full season, and in order to do that, we were at some point likely going to have to look at some ways to manage volume and build in some more recovery,” said general manager Ben Cherington to local media Saturday. “We’re still in the middle of those conversations.”

“We were aware of that coming into the season, so it’s not something that kind of caught us by surprise,” said manager Derek Shelton. “We have to make sure that as we go along we kind of adapt and adjust with it.”

There are different ways to go about managing innings, some of which have already been implemented. The Pirates have tried to avoid pitching either on normal four days of rest, using off-days and bullpen days to give them at least one extra day between toeing the rubber. That should be easier when their starting pitching depth gets healthy, and Martín Pérez, Marco Gonzales, Quinn Priester and Mike Burrows are all on the mend and pitching either rehab games or live batting practices.

That should help take a little off of Skenes’ and Jones’ plates, perhaps putting them in a position to take a breather, whether that means implementing a six-man rotation or just skipping them intermediately. Cherington does not sound keen in shutting them down for an extended period of time, though, like they did with Roansy Contreras in 2022.

“Shutdown doesn’t make sense from where I sit right now because that would mean no activity and then you have to come back from that and there are risks associated with that, too,” Cherington said. “I think this is much more about making sure, outing to outing and when we look at the short term, we’re really mindful about recovery and picking spots. There may be times where we pick a spot to add a little more recovery, but we’ll see.”

Any thoughts about workload management are of course in the best interest of the player and their long-term future, but Cherington also spoke Saturday about the urgency the organization is feeling about winning as soon as possible. If that’s going to happen, Skenes and Jones are going to have to be a big part of the success.

“It's just something that we opened with them back in the spring of just, 'Hey, this is the goal for the year. When it's time to revisit this, we'll revisit it,’” Cherington said. “In the meantime, no, we want them focused on competing, the daily conversations about what they're doing to get hitters out. That's what we want them focused on.”