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Paul Skenes puts on dazzling show in 2nd major league start for Pittsburgh Pirates

CHICAGO (AP) — This time, Paul Skenes brought his fastball. Not the one he struggled to command during an uneven major league debut. The dazzling one, the triple-digit heat that goes exactly where he wants it to go.

The result was one impressive show.

Skenes turned in a dominant performance during his second major league start on Friday, striking out 11 while pitching six no-hit innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 9-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs. He allowed just one baserunner on a full-count walk by Michael Busch in the fifth.

“It's not easy to pitch ever, regardless of the circumstances,” Skenes said. “But it's always easier to pitch when you have fastball command, because you have to have that. So that was the big thing today.”

Skenes, who turns 22 on May 29, was selected by Pittsburgh with the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s amateur draft. he 6-foot-6 right-hander helped LSU win the national championship before agreeing to a contract with the Pirates that included a $9.2 million signing bonus.

The hype surrounding the California native escalated rapidly as he dominated the minor leagues, recording a 0.99 ERA in seven starts with Triple-A Indianapolis. He made it to the majors last weekend, pitching four innings of three-run ball at home against the Cubs, striking out seven and walking two. There were some highlights, and some moments where he looked like a big league rookie.

The sequel was spectacular.

“Just got into a groove there,” he said.

No kidding.

Showing off his electric fastball, a nasty slider and a splinker — a hybrid of a splitter and a sinker — Skenes struck out his first seven batters, including the side in the first on pitches of at least 100 mph. He struck out Mike Tauchman on a 100 mph fastball on his 100th and final pitch — his 12th to reach triple digits.

“He used all of his pitches," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “He used his fastball. He used the sinker. He used the slider. The fact that he was able to go back and forth, and then go back to the fastball when he needed it, and when you go back to a fastball and it's 100, it kind of changes the dynamic a little bit.”

Skenes became the third rookie with seven strikeouts to start a game, joining Jacob deGrom on Sept. 15, 2014, and Jim Deshaies on Sept. 23, 1986. The seven consecutive strikeouts matched the franchise record for any point in a game, joining Francisco Liriano on June 1, 2013, against Cincinnati and Erik Bedard on May 3, 2012, versus St. Louis.

He also became the first rookie with an outing of at least six no-hit innings and 10-plus strikeouts since Chris Heston threw a no-hitter for San Francisco against the New York Mets on June 9, 2015.

“Today he stuck with basically the two pitches; the fastball and the sinker, split, whatever you want to call it,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said, “and the split was really good, and they were competitive every single time really. There's enough velocity difference on those two pitches that it makes it really difficult.”

Skenes recorded five of his 11 Ks on pitches of at least 100 mph, including a 101.2 mph called third strike to Miles Mastrobuoni for the final out of the second on a sunny day at Wrigley Field. Right before Mastrobuoni's plate appearance, Busch swung and missed at an 87.9 mph slider for strike three on the 10th pitch of the at-bat.

There was really nothing that the Cubs could do.

“Felt good. I had my pitches working for me a lot better than last time,” Skenes said. “Like I said, it was nice to get that one out of the way.”

Skenes' 11 strikeouts were the highest total for a starting pitcher for the Pirates in the franchise's 1,017 games at Wrigley. The scene for Skenes' first road start and first major league win was not lost on the pitcher.

“Just really, really cool all around,” he said. “Wrigley's awesome, you know, playing these guys. Friday day game, I had heard all about the day games at Wrigley and the vibe there. So it was just really, really cool.”



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