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Perrotto: The National Baseball Spotlight Finds … Pittsburgh?!!



Pirates 2023 first overall pick Paul Skenes prepares to throw during his major league debut on Saturday, May 11.

It is by no means a scientific study.

However, one of the primary factors I use to determine a Major League Baseball team’s relevancy is how often it appears on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.

The Pirates haven’t played in the sport’s showcase game since May 28, 2017, when they lost to the New York Mets 7-2 at PNC Park. That was so long ago that Matt Harvey being the winning pitcher was a big deal. Tyler Glasnow took the loss, and it seems it has been 100 years since he pitched for the Pirates.

The Pirates aren’t scheduled for any appearances on Sunday Night Baseball this year. That’s what happens when you have four straight last-place finishes in the National League Central from 2019-22 then finish fourth last season.

However, the Pirates have found the national spotlight over the past two weeks. It’s all because of Paul Skenes.

The rookie right-handed pitcher will be making the third start of his career on Thursday afternoon when the Pirates host the San Francisco Giants. The baseball world will be watching if the amount of publicity the 21-year-old Skenes has received nationally is any indication.

Giants manager Bob Melvin is looking forward to seeing the phenom, even if his team is tasked with trying to hand Skenes his first loss in the major leagues. Melvin has seen plenty in his 21 seasons as a big-league manager following a 10-year career as an MLB catcher.

“It’s good for baseball and it’s good for Pittsburgh,” Melvin said. “There are prospects who gain a little bit more attention than others and he is one of those players, so to speak. I’ve watched the video on him and he’s a very talented pitcher. I think it’s good for baseball when you have a player generating the kind of interest he is.”

It is for the Pirates, who had losing records in 27 of the past 31 seasons and are 23-27 this year. Except for the run of three straight NL Wild Card Game appearances from 2013-15, the Pirates have been to MLB what Siberia was to the old Soviet Union – a place to be banished.

The Pirates may not have a sellout crowd on Thursday. The game is scheduled to start at 12:35 p.m. and school is still in session.

Yet the Pirates seem certain to draw more fans than usual for a weekday afternoon game. After all, Skenes pitched six no-hit innings with 11 strikeouts in his last outing last Friday at Chicago less than one year after being the first overall selection in the 2023 amateur draft. He blew through the minor leagues in just 39 innings.

“I think it’s really good for our franchise,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said of the attention on Skenes. “We took a guy that we had very strong conviction – and I think (general manager Ben Cherington) said it at the time – that we thought could get to the big leagues very quickly. We proved that – maybe not as quickly as everybody wanted – but there were boxes that we had to check to get there. So, I do think that that notoriety for our club is important.”

It is even good for local baseball writers. Covering the Pirates can sometimes seem the same as being part of the federal witness protection program.

So, it’s nice that people have a reason to pay attention.

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