Paul Skenes to continue building up at Triple-A

There is no date yet for Paul Skenes’ potential Major League debut, and it’s normal to be a little nervous wondering when it will take place. The Pirates also currently have a hole in their starting rotation with Marco Gonzales on the injured list.

But Skenes, MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 prospect, isn’t the guy getting called up for the Majors — not through his fault, but because he needs to continue preparing for his first full professional season.

In terms of results, it’s hard to find much fault in Skenes’ first three outings this season. He has yet to allow a run with Triple-A Indianapolis, striking out 19 with just six baserunners allowed in 9 1/3 innings. However, he has been deliberately limited in how deep he can delve into games. He was limited to just three innings in his first two outings, and while he had a little extra wiggle room in his last outing, he only faced one more batter. fourth before reaching his limit on the number of throws.

“With Paul, we’ve been very intentional about how we build his volume heading into the season with the goal of really accomplishing two things,” general manager Ben Cherington said on his 93.7 radio show The Fan Sunday. “One is trying to get him to an appropriate total volume for 2024 from last year, when he threw a full college season and then just a little bit of pro ball.

“We don’t want to go from zero to 100 right away. Paul is so important to us in the long term, so we want to really think about it.

This is consistent with what the Pirates said in spring training when they told Skenes he wasn’t going to make the Opening Day roster. A lot of that has to do with the volume of innings he’s thrown in recent years. The Pirates’ No. 1 prospect pitched just 26 2/3 innings as a freshman at the Air Force Academy, then saw that number jump to 85 2/3 as a sophomore. He saw another significant increase in competitive rounds last season with Louisiana State University, landing at 122 2/3 frames. He then added 6 2/3 innings in five outings as a professional.

In the past, the Pirates were generally hesitant to add more than 40 to 50 innings to a pitcher’s workload in the peak season. They have done this in different ways in the past. In 2022, Roansy Contreras was shut down for several weeks mid-season and then had to rebuild in the Minors. Johan Oviedo and Mitch Keller enjoyed a six-day break between starts in the final two months of last season.

They’ve already taken steps to try to limit Jared Jones’ innings in the Majors, telling him before his final start Tuesday against the Mets that he was going to be limited to five innings.

For Skenes, the plan was a slower build-up to get him used to a five-day routine. Shorter outings allow him to get used to this routine while helping to limit the number of innings he throws. This way, ideally, the majority of his innings are spent with the Major League team.

For now, though, that makes him the rare player who is at Triple-A but isn’t quite on the Major League radar yet. The pitcher that replaces Gonzales will be ready to go now.

“I think the key here is looking at guys who have been stretched out and have built up enough volume that they’re kind of on a normal starting schedule at this point,” Cherington said. “I think we’re going to look at the guys who have hit that 85-90 pitch threshold first.”

In his first three outings with Indianapolis, Skenes has thrown 46, 44 and 55 pitches, so he’s obviously not there yet. Being allowed to start in the fourth row in his last outing is a positive sign that he’s getting closer.

As Cherington says, “Every time a box is in front of (Skenes), he checks it. »

There are many reasons to believe that he will continue to do so in the future. Right now, there’s a reason he starts in Indianapolis on Thursday instead of PNC Park on Friday, but that could change in the not-so-distant future.

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