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Perrotto: An Inning to Remember and Another of Growth for Paul Skenes

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Paul Skenes, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH – At times, it seems Paul Skenes has reached mythical status just five starts into his major-league career.

The Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander pumps one nasty pitch after another. It might be a 100-mph fastball, his dreaded “splinker” or a wipeout slider.

The 22-year-old does it all effortlessly. Skenes’ delivery is so smooth and his demeanor so calm that it appears he is playing catch instead of overpowering major-league hitters.

However, it’s not always as easy as Skenes makes it look. He showed that Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers when he proved human by allowing a pair of home runs.

Yet Skenes was still good enough to win against the National League West leaders as the Pirates outlasted the Dodgers 10-6 at PNC Park. And he had the crowd of 29,716 – fueled by dollar hot dogs and Skenesmas – buzzing throughout his outing.

I don’t recall many memorable moments in the first inning of a Wednesday night in June during PNC Park’s 24-year history. However, it will be hard to forget how Skenes opened this game.

Skenes struck out Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani swinging to start the inning. Skenes got Betts to flail at an 85-mph slider and then blew a 100-mph fastball past Ohtani before retiring Freddie Freeman on a fly ball to right field.

A case can be made that Betts, Ohtani and Freeman are among the top 10 players in the major leagues. All three have won league Most Valuable Player awards.

“I think the one thing we’re learning about him is he’s not afraid to go after people,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said of Skenes. “He went right after a really good lineup.”

Shelton is right. Skenes has shown no fear since he arrived in the big leagues.

“It was cool,” Skenes said matter-of-factly about the first inning. “It’s always nice to settle into a game like that.”

However, Skenes wasn’t always so settled in, though the Pirates scoring seven runs in the second inning gave him space to breathe.

Ohtani was ready for Skenes in their second matchup in the third inning after getting blown away by three fastballs his first time up. The international sensation hit a long two-run home run to center field off Skenes, sending a 100.1-mph heater for a 415-foot ride.

“Yeah, I like to call that big on big because I obviously beat him a couple times earlier,” Skenes said. “I think that was the right pitch to throw there, he’s just a pretty darn good player. Stuff like that is going to happen.”

Then the fifth inning happened, and the game could have gotten away from Skenes, even with a 7-2 lead.

Rookie Andy Pages hit a leadoff home run and Chris Taylor reached on a throwing error by shortstop Nick Gonzales. Skenes then got Betts on a called third strike but Ohtani singled. Skenes bounced back to strike out Freeman, but Will Smith followed with a single.

That left the bases loaded with two outs. The four-run lead seemed tenuous.

However, Skenes extricated himself by getting Teoscar Hernandez to hit into a forceourt.

That ended the night for Skenes as Shelton pulled him after 93 pitches.

“Good composure,” Shelton said. “He’s going to give up home runs, but when you have an error and you load the bases, and again, having to grind through this lineup, it’s not easy. There’s All-Stars throughout it. So very impressed with how composed he stayed.”

Everyone will remember the electric first inning and rightfully so. Yet how Skenes navigated the fifth will ultimately be more important to his growth as a pitcher.

It showed that even when Skenes is proven to be human, he can do great things.

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