Powerful Braves to face Pirates’ flamethrower Paul Skenes

Since the Atlanta Braves moved into Truist Park in 2017, they have never lost a series to Pittsburgh, going 18-5 against the Pirates there during that span.

After cruising to a 6-1 victory in Friday night’s opener, the Braves can clinch this weekend’s three-game series on Saturday afternoon, but it won’t be easy.

That’s because Pirates rookie phenom Paul Skenes (4-0, 2.14 ERA), a 6-foot-6 right-hander who regularly hits 100-102 mph on the radar gun, will make his first career start against Atlanta.

Skenes, the first overall pick of the 2023 Major League Draft out of LSU, has become must-see TV.

Skenes has 61 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings in his first eight starts and, according to MLB.com researcher and reporter Sarah Langs, only six other pitchers since at least 1901 have recorded more whiffs in their first eight appearances: Herb Score (77), Jose DeLeon (73), Kerry Wood (72), Stephen Strasburg (68), Masahiro Tanaka (66) and Nolan Ryan (64).

“That guy’s pretty legit,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said of Skenes on Sunday after the Rays managed one run — a leadoff homer by Yandy Diaz — on six hits over seven innings while striking out eight times in an eventual 3-1 Tampa Bay victory.

Skenes will be opposed by left-hander Max Fried (7-3, 3.00 ERA) in what has the makings of a classic pitchers’ duel. Fried is 3-1 with a 4.76 ERA in six career starts against Pittsburgh.

“It’s going to be a really good matchup,” Skenes said. “They’ve got a really good lineup. Obviously, (Fried) is a really good, accomplished pitcher, so it’s going to be fun.”

Although the Braves are without reigning National League MVP Ronald Acuna Jr. (ACL), who hit 41 home runs last season, they still feature one of baseball’s deepest power-hitting lineups. First baseman Matt Olson (54), DH Marcell Ozuna (40), third baseman Austin Riley (37) and second baseman Ozzie Albies (33) all topped the 30-homer mark last season.

“Just got to go out and execute,” Skenes said. “I’ve been here long enough. It’s just another lineup. They obviously have tools, they have power, thump throughout the lineup. Just got to go out and execute.”

Both Skenes and Fried will have to be on their game to match the performance of Atlanta’s 40-year-old right-hander Charlie Morton on Friday.

Morton didn’t allow a hit over the first 4 1/3 innings and tossed 6 1/3 shutout innings in the 6-1 win. He allowed three hits and walked a batter while striking out seven.

Morton, who pitched for Pittsburgh for seven seasons early in his career, beat the Pirates for the first time and made him the 22nd pitcher in major league history to record a win against all 30 teams.

“What he does is amazing to me,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “Happy for him that he’s beat every team now. A pretty cool thing.”

Outfielder Bryan Reynolds was one of Pittsburgh’s few bright spots on Friday. He singled in the eighth inning off reliever Jesse Chavez to extend his hitting streak to 24 games, the longest in the majors this season and also the longest by a Pirates player since Kenny Lofton’s 26-gamer in 2003.

–Field Level Media