Paul Skenes somehow exceeds expectations in second MLB start

May 17, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes (30)
May 17, 2024; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes (30) / David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Skenes had a fine MLB debut last weekend, all things considered. His final line was tainted by the bullpen allowing both of his inherited runners to score. This put his ERA at a misleading 6.75 entering his second start, a rematch against the division-rival Cubs.

That advantage generally goes to the offense, but that didn't matter to the rookie, who said, "Good luck" to the Cubs hitters who were slated to face him for the second time in a week.

And boy, did Skenes deliver. There aren't enough adjectives or superlatives to describe how well he pitched at Wrigley Field on Friday. He ended his outing after six innings, allowing just a fifth-inning walk and striking out 11. That adds up to a Game Score of 82, which is in the top two percent of all starts so far in the 2024 season. It's hard to choose the most impressive aspect of his dominant outing, but there certainly were a handful:

For starters (no pun intended), the beginning of Skenes' outing was about as dominant as it gets. He set the Pirates' franchise record by striking out each of the first seven batters he faced, and became the first pitcher in MLB history to start an outing with that many consecutive strikeouts and proceed not to allow a hit. No Cub had even made contact against Skenes until his 20th pitch, and he had already induced nine whiffs by that point.

Not only that, but Skenes finished the game strong as well. His final pitch of the game, a fastball he blew past Mike Tauchman, clocked in at 100.0 MPH, which was his hardest-thrown pitch since the fourth inning. But even more significant is that it was Skenes' 100th pitch of the contest, a mark he hadn't reached since his final college outing and hadn't even really sniffed as a professional (he threw 84 pitches in his MLB debut and topped out at 75 pitches in Indianapolis).

The main reason Skenes was optioned to start the season was so that he could gradually increase his workload in the minor leagues (the Pirates insisted he had boxes to check, but it became evident quickly that he didn't belong there). Seeing how he never eclipsed 75 pitches in a minor league contest, the fact that he's being allowed to reach the 100-pitch plateau this soon is a significant development.

Skenes also altered the usage of his secondary pitches in his second start and, obviously, was met with excellent results. His slider has long been his go-to offering to complement his elite fastball, but he changed things up on Friday. He allowed three hits - including a Nico Hoerner home run - with the slider in his debut, and with the Cubs' Friday lineup featuring six left-handed hitters, Skenes instead prioritized his new splinker.

Skenes utilized his sinker-splitter hybrid, an absurd offering that averages 95 MPH, 31 inches of drop and 14 inches of tail, almost as often as his fastball (33 splinkers vs. 41 fastballs) and more than twice as often as his slider (15). The adjusted approach against the lefty-heavy lineup worked - Cubs hitters whiffed at a rate of 38 percent or higher against all three of those pitches on Friday. The slider was particularly effective when Skenes was able to pick his spots with it; half of the swings induced against the pitch were whiffs, and the Cubs failed to put any of his sliders in play.

It may have been Paul Skenes' second MLB start, but the Pirates' starter looked nothing like a rookie on Friday.

He's shown a lot through two starts. He's averaging 99.7 MPH with his heater. He has a pair of devastating secondary pitches that he can use to get hitters out from both sides of the plate. He got into and out of jams in his debut, and in the encore he was so dominant that Cubs hitters were lucky just to make contact. He's looked every bit of a pitcher taken #1 in the draft, and every game where he toes the rubber will be appointment viewing for baseball fans everywhere for years to come.