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Perrotto: Pirates’ Big Three Needs a Little Support

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Pittsburgh Pirates, Paul Skenes, Mitch Keller, Jared Jones

Derek Shelton didn’t need to ponder the question long before breaking into a grin.

The Pittsburgh Pirates manager was asked what it is like to now have right-handers Paul Skenes, Jared Jones and Mitch Keller in his starting rotation and, more importantly, potentially having the trio together for many years.

“It’ll make you smile,” Shelton said.

The promotion of Skenes to the major leagues last weekend gives the Pirates a chance to have one of the best rotations in baseball. Skenes, 21, was the first overall pick in last year’s amateur draft and is universally considered the best pitching prospect in baseball.

Many analysts believe Jones is the game’s second-best pitching prospect. The 22-year-old has taken the major leagues by storm in his rookie season, going 2-4 with a 2.68 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 56 strikeouts against seven walks in 47 innings.

Keller is off to a so-so start in 2024 with a 3-3 record and a 4.41 ERA in eight starts. However, the 28-year-old was selected to the All-Star Game last season and the Pirates signed him to a five-year, $77-million contract extension during spring training.

Meanwhile, Johan Oviedo has become the forgotten man after undergoing elbow surgery last November that will cause him to miss this season. Yet Oviedo is just 26 and proved to be a workhorse last season when he pitched 177.1 in his first full year as a major-league starter.

“It’s a good situation to be in,” Shelton said. “I mean we’re talking about a guy in Mitch that we’ve locked up long-term. We’ve seen the ups and downs in his development and finally feel we’re in a really good spot. We’ve seen the start that Jared’s off to in his career and obviously we have hopes for Paul to be a really good major-league pitcher. I think that speaks volumes.

“We get Oviedo back next year, too, who had a lot of good innings last year. And we have more pitching coming. That makes you excited. The depth of our pitching group is something that’s really important to us. I think we’ve seen it with the success that some of our guys have had coming through our system.”

As Shelton alluded, the Pirates are well-stocked with pitching in the minor leagues. Baseball America ranks Skenes and Jones as the organization’s top two overall prospects but other pitchers in the top 10 are Bubba Chandler (3), left-hander Anthony Solometo (5), Thomas Harrington (6), Quinn Priester (8) and Braxton Ashcraft (10).

The starting pitching depth seemingly should make the Pirates contenders through at least the end of the decade even if some of those pitchers are injured or inevitably price themselves out of Pittsburgh.

So, the Pirates must start trying to win now. The interminable rebuilding process should be over.

The Pirates need to start thinking about winning in 2024 instead of waiting until 2026 or 2028 or 2045 or however much further they want to keep kicking the can down the road. They are playing in a National League Central that is a winnable division, even though the Pirates are 18-23 and 6.5 games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.

Regardless of how talented Skenes, Jones and Keller are, they can’t win a 0-0 game. The Pirates need hitting badly as they are averaging a pathetic 3.66 runs a game to rank 28th among the 30 MLB teams.

The Big Three needs support and continuing to sign hitters on the downsides of their career to one-year stopgap contracts isn’t going to cut it. It is time for general manager Ben Cherington to fix the offense with much better solutions and make the Pirates contenders.

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