MLB: Rays get first look at Pirates phenom Paul Skenes

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It’s been an impressive start to the very young career of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes, one the team hopes continues when he takes the mound for the rubber match of their three-game series against the visiting Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

Through seven starts, Skenes (4-0, 2.29 ERA) has 53 strikeouts across 39 1/3 innings, including at least seven in all but one start. He’s allowed just 10 runs to date, and only four in his past three outings.

He’s also given the team quality starts, going at least six innings in all but two appearances.

Skenes, who will face the Rays for the first time, and fellow star rookie Jared Jones, who overcame a shaky start on Saturday to help Pittsburgh to a 4-3 win, have been key factors in the team’s ability to stay in the National League’s playoff picture.

The 22-year-old pitchers are facing new challenges as first-year pros. Skenes has tossed 66 2/3 innings so far this season between the major and minor leagues while Jones has thrown 86. Both are on pace to throw over 160 innings this year, far above their 2023 totals.

With that, the Pirates carefully are managing their workloads.

“The goal was to put them in a position to be active pitchers for a full season, to contribute for a full season,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “And in order to do that, we were at some point likely going to have to look at some ways to manage volume and build in some more recovery. We’re still in the middle of those conversations.”

Pittsburgh, which has won four of its past six games, has managed five hits in each of the past two contests after combining for seven in the previous two. They were especially efficient on Saturday, scoring four times on those five hits.

One of those came from Bryan Reynolds, who extended his major league-leading hitting streak to a career-best 19 games. Oneil Cruz broke out of a 1-for-13 slump with a 445-foot shot into the Allegheny River and went 1-for-3, scoring twice.

The Rays rallied to pull within one in the ninth inning courtesy of a Yandy Diaz double that extended the first baseman’s hitting streak to 15 games. Diaz has five RBIs over his past four games.

Brandon Lowe and Amed Rosario were each hit by a pitch in the first inning and exited the game. Lowe, who fractured his pinky toe from a slider that bounced off his right foot, departed after the fourth and Rosario left immediately after a 99.6 mph fastball hit him in the face. Both could be available Sunday.

“I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to roll off the swing that I was supposed to and get the at-bats that the team really needed to have,” Lowe said. “We’ll see where we’re at [Sunday].”

Tampa Bay got a seven-inning outing from starter Zach Eflin on Saturday, a welcome breather for a bullpen that had been taxed of late, although he took the loss.

They’ll hope Aaron Civale (2-5, 5.42 ERA) can do the same. The right-hander, who is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in three career starts against the Pirates, hasn’t completed six innings since April 16.

–Field Level Media

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