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Perrotto: Look Into Future Provides Ray of Hope for Pirates

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Pirates' 2023 first overall pick Paul Skenes takes the mound in Spring Training.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Major League Baseball got the Spring Breakout matchup it wanted.

In the top of the first inning of the game between top young players from the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles organizations on Thursday night at LECOM Park, the consensus top hitting prospect in baseball faced the consensus top pitching prospect.

Paul Skenes showed why the Pirates feel he is the type of pitcher they can build a championship team around when he struck out Jackson Holliday, the Orioles’ presumptive opening-day second baseman.

The battle lasted six pitches and ended with Holliday swinging at strike three. Three of the six pitches were clocked at 100 mph or 101 mph.

“It was cool,” Skenes said after the Pirates notched a 3-1 victory. “It’s why we play the game, to have cool matchups like that.”

Holliday jokingly – somewhat – told reporters that he thought Skenes was throwing 110 mph.

It was exactly the kind of moment MLB hoped for when it hatched the idea for the Spring Breakout games earlier this year. The league wanted to showcase the game’s best young talent and all 30 teams are participating in the games that started Thursday night and run through Saturday.

Some of the luster was off the Skenes-Holliday matchup because they also squared off on Feb. 29 in a Grapefruit League game in Sarasota. Skenes got Holliday to ground out that time.

However, Thursday’s matchup was different.

The previous matchup wasn’t televised even though that game featured four players who were selected first overall in the amateur draft – catcher Henry Davis (2021) and Skenes (2023) for the Pirates against Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman (2019) and Holliday (2022).

This time, the game was shown nationally by MLB Network. There was a feeling of anticipation that isn’t usually experienced in March in Florida evidenced by 6,913 people buying tickets.

“It was cool to see so many fans here and get them involved,” Skenes said. “That’s the future of our organization right there tonight. I hoped the fans liked what they saw.”

Pirates fans certainly had to be impressed by what they saw of the pitching. Six pitchers combined to hold the Orioles to one hit in the seven-inning game – Hunter Barco allowed a single to Enrique Bradfield Jr. in the third inning.

Skenes pitched only one inning and was perfect, striking out two, including Bradfield on three pitches to begin the game. Barco worked two scoreless innings while Khristian Curtis, Patrick Reilly and Bubba Chandler each pitched one scoreless inning.

The only pitcher who gave up a run was Braxton Ashcraft, who wound up getting the win. He did not allow a hit but issued two walks.

The pitchers took pride in the one-hitter.

“We’re going to be good for a while, which is good to see,” Skenes said. “The first wave of guys who go up (to the major leagues) are going to be really good and then we have a stockpile of guys who are going to come up after that. I don’t think people realize how good we are, which we were talking about during the game amongst ourselves. We were excited.”

The Pirates have been in a near-perpetual rebuilding phase since 1993. And only one of the rebuilds has ever been successful, resulting in the Pirates making the National League wild-card playoff games for three straight seasons from 2013-15.

However, the Pirates haven’t won a division title since 1992 or won a postseason series since 1979 when they defeated the Orioles in the World Series.

Time will tell if this rebuild ever pays off. The performance of the pitching prospects on Thursday night at least provides a ray of hope.

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