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PITTSBURGH — Paul Skenes thought he was ready for the majors months ago.

Turns out, life doesn’t work like that. Or at least the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t want it to work like that for perhaps the best pitching prospect in a generation.

“You can’t just show up in spring training and throw seven innings, even if I feel like I can,” Skenes said.

Instead, the Pirates opted to bring the top overall pick in last year’s draft along slowly in hopes of protecting the 21-year-old’s right arm that regularly delivers fastballs that reach triple digits. The buildup at Triple-A Indianapolis was gradual and deliberate.

Skenes understood the assignment. He embraced it as best he could across seven almost uniformly dominant starts in which he posted a 0.99 ERA, doing his best to push the wondering about when “the call” would come out of his mind.

It worked. Maybe too well.

Skenes was actually napping Wednesday when manager Miguel Perez tried to break the news Skenes was going to Pittsburgh. Perez, who’s notoriously creative in finding ways to let his players know they’re moving up, opted to take a more direct approach with Skenes. Fitting for a franchise eager for the future to arrive as fast as possible.

“He says, ‘Are you really going to make me look for another pitcher on Saturday?'” Skenes said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know, am I?’ He says, ‘Yeah, you are. You’re going to The Show.'”

The conversation lasted two minutes. Less than 48 sometimes frantic hours later, Skenes walked into a clubhouse at PNC Park on Friday that had a stall featuring his name and the number “30.”

Skenes will make his first major league start Saturday against the Chicago Cubs in perhaps the most anticipated pitching debut since former Washington star Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 Pirates in 2009. Skenes, who turned 7 that night, has no recollection of it.

Then again, life has come at him so fast of late that keeping track can be difficult.

Two years ago, he was a somewhat anonymous transfer from Air Force to LSU. Now, he’s considered a franchise cornerstone for a club that hasn’t won a playoff series since 1979.

It can be a lot to take in.

“Two years ago feels really long ago and really short ago at the same time, if that makes sense,” he said. “In some ways, it flew by. In some ways, it was really long.”

The buzz around the city and on social media since the announcement of Skenes’ promotion has been palpable. He’s trying to tune it out. Emphasis on “trying,” considering his girlfriend is LSU gymnast and prominent social media influencer Livvy Dunne, who joined Skenes for his first trip to Pittsburgh as a big leaguer.

“I do my best to not see any of it, but it’s unavoidable at the same time,” he said. “You’re going to have to see some of it.”

While Skenes — who never threw more than 75 pitches in any of his starts at Indianapolis — considers his buildup “finished,” it’s unlikely he’s going to be allowed to go much beyond that number against the Cubs.

Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton stressed that “it was time” for Skenes to join the Pirates because “he had checked all the boxes that we felt he needed to do in the minor leagues and he checked them very quickly.”

Just not quickly enough for Pittsburgh to let Skenes think about reaching the 100-pitch mark, a number he hit in 12 of his 19 starts last year at LSU.

“There’s still going to be a process as we move forward,” Shelton said.

It’s a process Skenes is putting his trust in, thanks in part to the way the Pirates have handled rookie right-hander Jared Jones.

Jones, 22, made the team out of spring training and entered Friday’s start against the Cubs with a 2.63 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 41 innings. Pittsburgh has used kid gloves with Jones at times, though he also threw a career-high 96 pitches over seven brilliant innings against Colorado last weekend.

“It’s also a little bit easier to know that I’m not the only one that’s going through [a buildup],” Skenes said. “It is frustrating to go out there and throw three innings [even though] I knew I was going to throw three innings. I knew that it was setting me up to be able to throw six, seven, eight innings in September, October this year.”

The use of “October” was intentional. The Pirates didn’t draft Skenes and lavish him with a record $9.2 million signing bonus just to sell tickets (though that will almost certainly happen). They see a player who can potentially help take the franchise places it hasn’t been in decades.

Pittsburgh entered the weekend in a 6-16 funk following an 11-5 start. While the offense has struggled, a starting rotation considered a question mark when the season began looks like it could be a strength thanks to Jones’ emergence, the steady hand of Martin Perez and Skenes’ arrival.

“I would definitely say we’re close,” Skenes said. “I think being around the team in spring training and watching the club over the past month or so, we’re close. I think there is a lot to look forward to.”

Skenes isn’t afraid of the challenge that awaits. Still, he’s going to try to breathe in a moment he long dreamed of but tried to put out of his mind until it finally happened.

“I definitely want to take a minute and realize how cool it is.”

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Tigers blow 5-run lead, rally with 3-run HR in 9th




Tigers blow 5-run lead, rally with 3-run HR in 9th

DETROIT — Matt Vierling homered twice, including a tiebreaking, three-run drive off Jordan Romano in the ninth inning that gave Detroit a wild 14-11 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday after the Tigers wasted a five-run lead and recovered from a two-run deficit.

Vierling had four hits and tied career highs with two homers and four RBIs.

“My brother and I in the back yard, we’d always be doing situations like that,” Vierling said. “It’s kind of cool when it actually happens.”

Carson Kelly hit a three-run homer and Spencer Torkelson hit a solo shot for Detroit, which led 5-0 after three innings, 8-3 after five and 9-5 after six. The Tigers set a season high for runs and tied their high with 17 hits.

Torkelson had three hits and scored three runs.

“He’s really easy to root for,” Torkelson said of Vierling. “To see him come through, we had all the faith in the world and confidence he’d get the job done there. That’s exactly what he did.”

Toronto’s Isiah Kiner-Falefa homered in the seventh off Tyler Holton, and the Blue Jays took an 11-9 lead with a five-run eighth when Bo Bichette hit a two-run single off Jason Foley and Daulton Varsho hit a three-run homer.

Toronto manager John Schneider drew some consolation by the way his team kept fighting back.

“It’s easy to kind of quit after that and the guys did the exact opposite,” he said. “Chipped away and came back with huge hits from Bo and Varsh.”

Mark Canha tied the score with a two-run single against Yimi Garcia in the bottom half, his third hit.

Vierling, who hit a solo homer in the fifth off Zach Pop, drove a full-count slider from Romano (1-2) over the left-field wall for his first big league walk-off hit. A two-time All-Star, Romano has allowed three homers this year, half his total last season.

“I was ready for that pitch that he threw me 3-2,” Vierling said. “I was kind of looking for it 2-2, as well, but it was low and I was able to check my swing enough. The next pitch was the same pitch, just a little more up.”

Mason Englert (1-0) pitched a hitless ninth for the Tigers (26-27), who won the last three games of a four-game series against the last-place Blue Jays (23-29).

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had his second four-hit game of the season for the Blue Jays.

Detroit starter Casey Mize gave up three runs and eight hits in 4⅓ innings. Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi allowed five runs and eight hits in three innings. Mize and Kikuchi are 0-3 each in their six starts.

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Braves’ Acuna leaves game with knee soreness




Braves' Acuna leaves game with knee soreness

PITTSBURGH — Ronald Acuna Jr. left the Atlanta Braves8-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first inning Sunday with left knee soreness after his knee appeared to buckle.

The reigning National League MVP led off the game with a double to right-center field off Martin Perez. With Marcell Ozuna at the plate, Acuna started toward third on a stolen base attempt and his left knee appeared to buckle. He remained down for several minutes while being treated, pointing at his left leg before walking off under his own power.

Acuna, a 26-year-old outfielder, is batting .250 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 49 games. The four-time All-Star hit a career-best .337 last season with 41 homers and 106 RBIs.

Adam Duvall shifted from left to right in the bottom half, and Jarred Kelenic entered the game in place of Acuna and played left.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Royals’ Massey again on IL with low back injury




Royals' Massey again on IL with low back injury

The Kansas City Royals placed second baseman Michael Massey on the 10-day injured list Sunday because of a low back ligament sprain.

In a corresponding move, the Royals recalled shortstop Nick Loftin from Triple-A Omaha.

Massey homered in the fifth inning of the Royals’ 8-1 victory over the host Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. He exited the game in the next inning and did not play Saturday.

He also missed the start of the season with a lower back strain.

“It’s more of the same, what he has been dealing with since the spring, just some tightness,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “We’re going to have to take his lead on it and manage it. He’s feeling better, moving around and exercising, but we’re going to have to manage it day to day.”

Massey, 26, is hitting .294 with six home runs and 23 RBIs in 29 games. He has a .306 on-base percentage, .529 slugging percentage and .835 OPS.

Loftin hit .276 (8-for-29) in 13 games with Kansas City this season. He is batting .308 (28-for-91) in 32 career games.

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