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Perrotto: Skenesmas Should Be Fun But Hard to Top Strasmus

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Stephen Strasburg, Paul Skenes

I’ve been blessed and fortunate to have covered the Pittsburgh Pirates and MLB for various outlets.

I’ve been to thousands of regular season games, hundreds of postseason games, two dozen All-Star Games and nearly four decades’ worth of spring training camps.

That’s not to brag. I’m grateful that a baseball-crazy kid who grew up in the middle of nowhere has been able to experience all that, like the person who hit the baseball lottery.

Most of those games tend to run together in my mind after all these years. However, some still stand out.

One of those games was on June 8, 2010, at Nationals Park in Washington as the hometown team hosted the Pirates. That marked the major-league debut of Nationals pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg.

The anticipation of Strasburg reaching the major leagues had been building since the Nationals selected him first overall in the 2009 amateur draft from San Diego State. Many analysts and scouts called Strasburg the best pitching prospect ever and predicted greatness for the right-hander.

The pageantry surrounding Strasburg matched the hype. I have yet to attend a regular-season game that generated so much buzz.

MLB Network hastily added the game to its schedule and broadcast it nationwide. Almost every major media outlet in the country had a reporter in the press box. When Strasburg walked from the dugout to the bullpen to begin warming up, he received a thunderous ovation. When he returned to the dugout moments before the first pitch, the fans were on their feet and screaming.

That leads us to Saturday afternoon when top pitching prospect Paul Skenes is scheduled to make his major-league debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.

There should be plenty of excitement on the North Shore. All signs point to a sellout as it is a late weekend afternoon with the Pirates hosting the Cubs, who are always a popular draw.

However, it will also be hard to match the atmosphere of that night in Washington nearly 14 years ago.

Now that is not meant to knock Pirates fans or Skenes. It is just that the entire aura surrounding Strasburg will be difficult to replicate.

Skenes is considered the best pitching prospect in baseball. However, the Strasburg hype had been building for a few years at San Diego State. Skenes was relatively unknown as a two-way player at Air Force until transferring to LSU last season, concentrating solely on pitching, and leading the Tigers to the College World Series title.

Furthermore, Skenes will have trouble matching Strasburg’s performance in his first game. Strasburg had 14 strikeouts in seven innings with no walks while allowing two runs and four hits.

The 2010 Pirates were an awful team that finished with a 57-105 record. Seven of the nine Pirates’ starters struck out at least twice that night and the only thing that kept the Pirates from being shut out was Delwyn Young’s two-run home run. Young homered seven times that season, about five more than I would have guessed.

Skenes has been dominant this season at Triple-A Indianapolis with a 0.99 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 27.1 innings pitched.

However, Skenes will face a more formidable lineup Saturday than the one Strasburg sliced through. The Cubs are 22-16, 0.5 game out of first place in the National League Central, and 13th in the major leagues in scoring at 4.58 runs a game.

The Cubs also have the 2019 NL MVP in center fielder Cody Bellinger and two-time All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson.

They called Strasburg’s debut “Strasmas” on that warm Tuesday evening in the nation’s capital. Perhaps Saturday will be dubbed “Skenesmas” in Pittsburgh.

Yet as great as Skenesmas might turn out, it will be hard-pressed to be remembered as well as Strasmas.

Nevertheless, it should be a fun day at PNC Park.

Merry Skenesmas.

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