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Perrotto: A Look at Other Pirates’ No. 1 Pitchers’ MLB Debuts



Pittsburgh Pirates, Gerrit Cole, Paul Skenes

It is not a stretch of the imagination to say that the scheduled debut of Paul Skenes on Saturday is the most anticipated one in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Skenes has been touted as a once-in-a-generation pitching prospect since the Pirates selected him first overall in last year’s amateur draft after he led LSU to the College World Series championship.

The minor leagues have barely been a challenge for Skenes since he made his professional debut last August. He has allowed eight runs (seven earned) on 22 hits in 34 innings with 55 strikeouts and 10 walks.

That was enough to get Skenes promoted to the major leagues. He will make his debut on Saturday when he faces the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.

Skenes will be the fourth pitcher selected first overall to make his major-league debut with the Pirates. Here is a look at the other three’s first games.

Kris Benson, 1999

Benson made his debut on April 9, 1999, against the Cubs at Three Rivers Stadium three years after he was drafted from Clemson.

Benson wasn’t necessarily overpowering in that first game but was effective in getting the win as the Pirates notched a 2-1 victory in front of 19,721 on a Friday night. He allowed only one run on two hits in six innings while striking out three and walking three.

It took just one pitch for Benson to record his first out with Lance Johnson flying to center field.

The Pirates won despite being held to two hits, a home run by Warren Morris and a double by Kevin Young. Mike Williams got the last four outs for the save.

Benson pitched five years for the Pirates, going 43-49 with a 4.26 ERA. He eventually moved on to the New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks, finishing with a 70-75 record in nine seasons between 1999 and 2010.

Bryan Bullington, 2005

Bullington’s debut came with absolutely no fanfare as he made his debut in long relief for the Pirates on Sept. 18, 2005, against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park. The Pirates outlasted the Reds 9-7, but the most notable part of the Sunday afternoon was perhaps the team’s best giveaway item ever – a Jack Wilson jack in the box.

Bullington entered in the third inning in relief of starter Oliver Perez, inheriting a two-out, bases-loaded jam and the Pirates leading 6-5. Bullington escaped by getting Ryan Freel to ground out but then gave up two runs in the fourth and was removed from the game with a sore elbow.

In 1.1 innings, Bullington allowed two runs on one hit while striking one and walking one. The elbow injury ended his season and required surgery that forced him to miss all of 2006.

The Pirates rallied to win behind Freddy Sanchez’s three hits and two RBIs. Mike Gonzales pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

Bullington, who was drafted from Ball State in 2002, never won a game for the Pirates, going 0-3 with a 5.29 ERA in parts of two seasons. He also pitched for Cleveland, the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals. Though he finished with a 1-9 record in the big leagues, he went on to pitch for five seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan.

Gerrit Cole, 2013

Cole faced the San Francisco Giants and two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum on June 11, 2013, in what was the most-anticipated debut since PNC Park opened in 2001. The Pirates selected Cole from UCLA a year earlier.

Cole got the win, allowing two runs and scattering seven hits over 6.1 innings in leading the Pirates to an 8-2 victory. He had just two strikeouts – including Gregor Blanco on three pitches to start the game – but no walks. Cole also contributed a pair of hits.

Pedro Alvarez backed Cole by going 3 for 3 with a home run and Starling Marte also went deep. The attendance was 30,614 but many of the fans didn’t get to their seats in time for the start of the game because of the long lines created by PNC Park security guards using metal detectors at the gates for the first time.

Cole stayed with the Pirates for five seasons and compiled a 59-42 record and a 3.50 ERA. He has also pitched with the Houston Astros and won the American League Cy Young Award last season with the New York Yankees. Cole has a 145-75 career record.

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