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PITTSBURGH — The moment hardly looked too big for Paul Skenes.

The top-ranked pitching prospect in baseball had a promising major league debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates, working into the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs on Saturday while offering a glimpse of what might be to come.

Skenes was charged with three runs in four-plus innings. He struck out seven, throwing 17 pitches of 100 mph or more. He also walked two and gave up a homer to Nico Hoerner in the fourth that just reached the first row of bleachers beyond the left-field wall.

As he walked off the field, the mustachioed 21-year-old received a loud ovation from a near-sellout crowd that included his more famous girlfriend, LSU gymnast and social media influencer Livvy Dunne.

Skenes became the first Pirates pitcher aged 21 or younger to record at least seven strikeouts in his major league debut since Nick Maddox fanned 11 against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1907 — 95 years before Skenes was born.

The Pirates teased Skenes’ call-up on Wednesday after he breezed through seven starts at Triple-A Indianapolis. His arrival gave PNC Park a playoff-like atmosphere, or at least as much as it can feel like the playoffs in mid-May for a team that hasn’t reached the postseason since 2015.

Fans lined up two and three deep behind the Pirates’ bullpen beyond the center-field fence to try to catch some of Skenes’ pregame routine. Nearby, the team store under the left-field bleachers did a brisk business, with some ponying up $200 for jerseys with Skenes’ No. 30 stitched on the back.

It has been a dizzying rise for Skenes from somewhat anonymous Air Force Academy cadet to College World Series MVP at LSU to first pick in the 2023 draft to possible franchise cornerstone. And yet he looked plenty comfortable.

Skenes, black socks pulled up high against his white pants, confidently strolled out of the dugout and bounded over the third-base line to start what he has likened to the end of one portion of his life and the beginning of another.

A significant portion of the crowd, including Dunne, stood while Skenes warmed up as “Cue Country Roads” by Charles Wesley Godwin blared over the speakers.

Then Chicago designated hitter Mike Tauchman stepped into the batter’s box, and hype gave way to reality. Skenes unfurled his 6-foot-6 frame and, with his funky delivery, fired a 101 mph fastball to Trautman that plate umpire Paul Clemons called a ball.

Six pitches later, Trautman was walking back to the dugout after swinging at another fastball — 100.9 mph this time — that he tipped into catcher Yasmani Grandal‘s mitt for Skenes’ first strikeout.

His second followed three pitches later.

Cubs right fielder Seiya Suzuki took a pair of called strikes — the second an 87 mph slider that left Suzuki shaking his head — before flailing at another slider.

Chicago center fielder Cody Bellinger worked a walk, but only after taking a ball that registered 101.9 mph, the fastest by a Pirates pitcher since Major League Baseball began tracking pitch speed in 2008.

Skenes worked out of the inning by getting Christopher Morel to fly out to deep center. A walk, a hit batter and a single in the second loaded the bases with one out. No matter. Yan Gomes struck out looking at a fastball, and Tauchman grounded out to second.

The next two innings were more of the same, with Skenes mixing triple-digit fastballs with off-speed stuff that remains a work in progress. Hoerner went deep on a hanging first-pitch slider.

Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton, who has stressed the team will remain mindful of Skenes’ workload, took the rookie out after his pitch count reached 84 following a pair of hits by the Cubs to lead off the fifth. The runners later scored when reliever Kyle Nicolas walked in a pair of runs.

Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said a few hours before the first pitch that Skenes has nothing left to prove in the minors, even with the outsized attention he has received every step of the way.

“There is no reason to put any ceiling on [him],” Cherington said. “It will be fun to watch that play out. That’s all I can say. I’m very confident that’s how he’s thinking about it. That’s the fun of it for someone like him and some of the other elite performers. It’s finding a way to find that next level.”

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Projecting the X factors, tactics and key matchups that will swing Rangers-Panthers




Projecting the X factors, tactics and key matchups that will swing Rangers-Panthers

The NHL’s conference finals have arrived, and if you asked around in September, the four teams remaining were some of the most likely answers to the question, “Who will win the Stanley Cup?”

We didn’t get here the way many would have imagined, though. In the East, there can be no debate that the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers are the best teams, and were the best teams over the course of the season.

The West, however, was a little more surprising. The Dallas Stars battled the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets all season for the No. 1 spot in the West, with all three teams having spells at the top. The Edmonton Oilers had times during the season when they were wholly unconvincing as playoff threats, including a dismal start that saw them nine points out of a playoff spot in November, leading to the dismissal of coach Jay Woodcroft.

In our series previews, we look at specific areas: key points of difference in the series, the X factor, which team my model favors and the reasons why, along with a projection on the series result.

The model is a neural network that accounts for player strength, offensive, defensive and special teams performance, goaltending, matchup ratings and rest. As the model ingests data, it improves, with the heaviest weights on recent play. The model allows for players to be added and removed, with their impact on the game results measured.

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M’s Rojas: Yankees’ Schmidt ‘was clearly tipping’




M's Rojas: Yankees' Schmidt 'was clearly tipping'

NEW YORK — With a little nod of his neck as he took his lead off second base, Josh Rojas seemed to signal Mariners teammate Dylan Moore that a cutter was coming from Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt.

Moore drove the 93.1 mph pitch 386 feet into the left-field seats for a 2-0 lead, helping Seattle to a 6-3 win over New York on Tuesday night.

“Everybody’s always trying to look for something,” Rojas said Wednesday. “We’re out there trying to find anything we can to gain an advantage.”

MLB Network showed a frame-by-frame comparison of Schmidt in the set position with Moore at the plate in the third inning. Rojas could see none of the ball before a sinker, a little of the ball ahead of a sweeper and a significant portion before a cutter.

Moore had fouled off Schmidt’s first full-count pitch, a sweeper, before the right-hander came back with a cutter.

“You can see in the video he was clearly tipping,” Rojas said.

Schmidt, 28, said after the game the Yankees were aware of the tipping and quickly worked to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

“Obviously tipping is a part of this game and it’s a factor and it’s always in the back of our heads and something that we’re well aware of,” Schmidt said. “They got two runs on it. But I was able to make adjustments after we saw the video and just part of the game. Another factor in it.”

Schmidt said tipping had been an issue with him in the past.

“It’s just something that we’re constantly with all our guys paying attention to and working on,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

Mariners manager Scott Servais, a big league catcher from 1991 to 2001, said technology has forced teams to become more alert to tipping.

“You didn’t have all the cameras and all the people working in front offices. It was actually a learned skill,” Servais said. “The days that you weren’t playing, you’re just locked in on that pitcher. Where does he comes set? When does his hand go into his glove? Where’s his eyes? Does he bite his lip when he throws his slider? There’s all kinds of stuff that happens, and in our day, you would just sit and stare at the guy until you try to figure it out for yourself.”

Asked who was the best at picking up tips, Servais brought up his own experience.

“Veteran players that didn’t play much — like myself — knew what to look for,” he said. “I always thought catchers had a good sense for it because they all knew that pitchers all did something a little bit different.”

Rojas said figuring out pitch tips “is a pretty common thing.”

“Even if you have something, it’s still pretty hard to get a hit,” he said.

Major League Baseball’s approval in 2022 of the PitchCom device for communication between pitchers and catchers has largely eliminated catchers signaling pitchers — and the ability of runners at second to pick up those signs. That causes runners to focus on the pitchers.

“Now it’s strictly a game of trying to find little things like that that will give you a tell,” Rojas said.

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Padres’ Bogaerts broke shoulder diving for ball




Padres' Bogaerts broke shoulder diving for ball

CINCINNATI — San Diego Padres All-Star second baseman Xander Bogaerts broke his left shoulder attempting a diving pickup and was placed on the 10-day injured list Wednesday.

“I’m not a big timetable guy,” Padres manager Mike Shildt said. “Obviously he’ll be on the sidelines for a period of time. It’s really impossible to say how long. We’re still gathering information.”

Bogaerts injured his shoulder while diving for a ground ball in the first game of a doubleheader Monday against the Atlanta Braves. Bogaerts was escorted off the field after being evaluated by training staff.

Initial imaging of Bogaerts’ shoulder came back negative, but the fracture was revealed when further tests were done on Wednesday.

“Not as good (of news) as we clearly would have hoped, especially after the initial imaging,” Shildt said.

The Padres said Bogaerts, 31, did not suffer a labrum tear and does not require surgery at this time. The bone needs time to heal, but Bogaerts said he hopes to return to the lineup by late summer.(

Bogaerts, who was placed on the IL retroactive to May 21, is hitting .219 with four homers and 14 RBIs.

In related roster moves, the Padres selected the contract of outfielder David Peralta and transferred right-handed pitcher Luis Patiño to the 60-day IL.

Luis Arraez started at second base for the second straight game on Wednesday. Shildt said he will get creative in terms of replacing Bogaerts moving forward.

“The good news is, we have options between three or four different guys,” Shildt said. “We’re still in the process of figuring things out.”

The Associated Press and Field Level Media contributed to this report.

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