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May 11, 2024 3:29 am

Drooping Pirates look for jolt from hot prospect Paul Skenes

Paul Skenes

The already-considerable buzz surrounding Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Paul Skenes only heightens ahead of his scheduled major league debut against the visiting Chicago Cubs on Saturday.

The 21-year-old Skenes made a rapid ascent through the minor leagues after he was the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s major league draft. He earned this week’s promotion after dominating the minors in virtually every category.

The slumping Pirates could use a spark. Friday’s 7-2 loss in the series opener dropped them to 6-17 in their past 23 games.

Cody Bellinger went 4-for-5 with a solo homer and two doubles for Chicago, which has won four of its last six games. Bellinger is hitting .538 (7-for-13) with two homers in three games since returning from fractured ribs.

Pittsburgh can only hope for an immediate boost from Skenes, who has posted a 0.99 ERA and 45 strikeouts across 27 1/3 innings in seven starts with Triple-A Indianapolis this season.

The 6-foot-6 right-hander has drawn raves for his triple-digit fastball and four other elite pitches.

“I’m excited he’s here,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton. “He deserves it. He’s proven that he needed to be in the big leagues.”

Chicago will counter with left-hander Justin Steele (0-0, 0.96 ERA), who is making his second start since missing five weeks due to a hamstring strain. He tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings in a no-decision against the visiting San Diego Padres on Monday.

Steele, 28, allowed three hits with one walk and two strikeouts while throwing 68 pitches, 43 for strikes.

“Felt really good, especially pitching at Wrigley again in front of the fans,” Steele said. “Really awesome just to be back with the team again, you know, in the locker room, hanging out with the guys and stuff.”

Andrew McCutchen is 1-for-15 against Steele, who has gone 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in six career games (five starts) versus Pittsburgh.

Prior to Friday’s game, Chicago placed shortstop Dansby Swanson on the injured list with a sprained right knee and activated outfielder Seiya Suzuki (oblique strain).

Swanson, who is batting .209 with four homers and 12 RBIs, will rest for the next few days and be reevaluated next week.

“At this point in the year, grinding through 4 1/2 months of this just doesn’t make sense,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said. “So the hope is that with a little break here, he can have this behind him and not have it be an issue for the rest of the season.”

Suzuki has been out since mid-April and is expected to return to the lineup on Saturday.

Pittsburgh was held to two or fewer runs for the 16th time in its last 23 games on Friday despite the arrival of infielder Nick Gonzales, who was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis before the game.

Gonzales delivered a two-run single in his first at-bat and could see regular playing time after batting .358 with four homers in 30 games for Triple-A Indianapolis.

“He’s pushed his way to the big leagues with what he’s done in Indianapolis, and hopefully it provides us a little bit of a spark offensively,” Shelton said. “It’s not on him solely, but he’s played well in Indy, and we’re going to get him in there.”

–Field Level Media

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