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Shohei Ohtani Breaks Down Viral Duel With Paul Skenes



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

Those who came to see Pirates’ phenom Paul Skenes face off against Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night weren’t disappointed.

The 22-year-old right-hander entered the game amped up, striking out Ohtani and fellow perennial MVP candidate Mookie Betts on a combined seven pitches.

Skenes blew three consecutive triple-digit fastballs past Ohtani, who signed a ten-year, $700 million contract with Los Angeles in December. Many regard the Dodgers’ star, who won the American League MVP award last season and serves as both a starting pitcher and designated hitter when fully healthy, as the best player in the world.

Ohtani enjoyed a statement moment of his own, getting the better of Skenes his second time through the lineup. The Ōshū, Japan native grabbed hold of a full-count fastball with two outs and deposited it in the bullpens for a two-run homer.

Young Bucs Put to the Test

The Pirates have gone head to head against the best lineup in the National League—Los Angeles’ .764 team OPS sits as the second-best in baseball—over the past two games, giving Skenes and fellow standout rookie Jared Jones an early trial through fire.

The young flamethrowers more than held their own.

Jones pitched six scoreless innings on Tuesday, allowing just three hits. He also dotted 101 miles per hour on the radar gun for the first time in his big league career while facing the team he grew up watching. Skenes got tagged for three runs in five innings, but his stuff was on full display: of the eight strikeouts he managed, four came when he froze a Dodger looking.

Skenes’ aggressive approach to open the game shook baseball’s corner of the internet, but Shohei Ohtani said it wasn’t the velocity that threw him off so much as the quirks of Skenes’ delivery.

“His stuff itself was really good, as you saw my first at-bat: I couldn’t really put together good swings. Overall just really good stuff,” Ohtani said, speaking through a Dodgers’ team interpreter. “Rather than the velo, it’s really the angle and the release. I made the adjustment in the second at-bat.”

Clash of the Titans

Ohtani added that Skenes’ aggressive approach to begin the game didn’t really surprise him. The Pirates’ right-hander, for his part, described the unique nature of two phenomenons locking horns… particularly on the belt-high fastball that Ohtani got hold of to clear the fences.

“Yeah, I like to call that ‘big on big’ because I obviously beat him a couple times earlier,” Skenes said. “I think that was the right pitch to throw there, he’s just a pretty darn good player. Stuff like that is going to happen.”

The Dodgers enjoyed more success against Skenes than they did Jones—no easy feat, in part because Los Angeles has struggled against fastballs of any velocity this year—but Shohei Ohtani said that facing one didn’t help them prepare for the other.

That’s because Skenes, who stands 6-foot-6, possesses the build of your prototypical power pitcher. Jones, listed at a generous 6-foot-1, takes a much different approach despite the similar results.

“They both can throw hard, but what really stands out is they both throw at different angles, different delivery,” Ohtani said.

Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts added that his team emphasized ‘intentionality’ toward hunting fastballs because of their struggles: this renewed mindset could’ve keyed their improved results. He also praised Skenes’ ability, including his lively fastball and ability to control it.

“Skenes, it’s really good stuff. For us to get him out after five, I thought was a win. The fastball has a lot of life, he’s got really good command,” Roberts said. “I thought today we just did a really good job of grinding him and getting to the ‘pen.”

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