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The Pittsburgh Pirates are reeling after a hot start. And Paul Skenes isn't around -- yet -- to help

Sport

The Pittsburgh Pirates are reeling after a hot start. And Paul Skenes isn't around -- yet -- to help
Sport

Sport

The Pittsburgh Pirates are reeling after a hot start. And Paul Skenes isn't around -- yet -- to help

2024-04-22 06:28 Last Updated At:06:31

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Martín Pérez knows what winning baseball looks like.

The veteran left-handed pitcher has the World Series hardware to prove it.

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Pittsburgh Pirates' Ke'Bryan Hayes (13) singles off Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Josh Winckowski, driving in a run, during the first inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Martín Pérez knows what winning baseball looks like.

Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman delivers during the eighth inning of the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman delivers during the eighth inning of the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar delivers during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar delivers during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Martín Pérez delivers during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Martín Pérez delivers during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz misplays a popup by Boston Red Sox's Wilyer Abreu in short right center field during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. A run scored on the error. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz misplays a popup by Boston Red Sox's Wilyer Abreu in short right center field during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. A run scored on the error. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

He knows what bad body language looks like too. And at the moment, the Pittsburgh Pirates are displaying far too much of it during a six-game slide that's tempered some of the optimism that surrounded the club during a promising start.

“We’re putting too much pressure on,” Pérez said after a 6-1 loss to Boston on Sunday dropped Pittsburgh to 11-11. “We’re not getting the results that we’re looking for. We have to come in tomorrow, go out there and enjoy it and try to play better.”

At the moment, it's a relatively low bar to clear. The Pirates have managed just nine runs during their slide and the series finale against the Red Sox was pockmarked by careless mistakes. Pérez labored through four-plus innings, twice Pittsburgh ran into outs at second base and slumping shortstop Oneil Cruz let a routine pop up glance off his glove, allowing an insurance run to score.

“In certain situations, guys are trying to do a little too much,” Pirates general manager Derek Shelton said. “In certain situations, we just played sloppy.”

A year ago, the Pirates sprinted to a 20-8 start before going into a two-month funk from which they never fully recovered on their way to a fifth straight losing season. They believe the painful lessons learned last spring will help keep them from bottoming out this time around.

Asked what needs to happen to make sure one rough week doesn't turn into a repeat of 2023, outfielder Bryan Reynolds preached patience.

“Just looking at the calendar and seeing we have 140 more (games),” Reynolds said. “Getting in the cage, working on our swings, doing early defense, and just continuing to go.”

The issue at the moment isn't the pitching, but the offense. The Pirates won 11 of their first 16 by averaging more than five runs a game. They haven't scored more than three while getting swept by Boston and the New York Mets.

Cruz, who missed most of last season with a fractured left ankle, is hitting just .209 and his 37 strikeouts lead the majors. Shelton dropped the towering 6-foot-7 Cruz to eighth in the order on Sunday in hopes of helping the talented 25-year-old hit the reset button.

“Getting confidence back is a huge part especially being out for a year, but we’re working hard everyday and battle through some stuff and we’re here to do that everyday to get better,” Cruz said through a translator. “We’ll be fine.”

The starting pitching, thought to be a weakness when the season began, has actually been fine or in the case of rookie Jared Jones, occasionally spectacular.

Yet with Marco Gonzales on the injured list with a left forearm problem and Quinn Priester unimpressive in his 2024 major league debut in a loss on Friday, the drumbeat for the Pirates to call up 2023 top overall pick Paul Skenes figures only to get louder.

The hard-throwing right-hander has been almost unhittable at Triple-A Indianapolis. The 21-year-old Skenes hasn't allowed a run in 12 2/3 innings and he's struck out 27 of the 47 batters he's faced, most of them recorded with a fastball that regularly clocks in at 100 mph.

While Skenes' arrival is a matter of “when” and not “if,” the Pirates are intent on taking a deliberate approach to make sure Skenes is ready. There is little question that Skenes has the stuff to get out big-league hitters. What he doesn't have — at the moment anyway — is the kind of endurance he'll need to be a starter in the majors.

Skenes hasn't thrown more than 65 pitches in any of his four starts, though that number figures to tick up in the coming weeks. Skenes has not groused about being in Triple-A and pointed out he needs to become more efficient, a sometimes difficult task for a strikeout pitcher.

General manager Ben Cherington pointed out on his radio show Sunday that Skenes is still just in his first full season as a professional and the team is focused on putting Skenes in the “best position” to succeed whenever he arrives in Pittsburgh.

Until then — and the best guess is Skenes will be up by early June at the latest barring a major setback — the Pirates will try to forge ahead with what they have. Early NL Central leader Milwaukee begins a four-game set at PNC Park on Monday night. Jones, just 22 himself, will get the ball with a chance to take another step forward and halt his team's slide.

Shelton took Jones out just 59 pitches into his previous start against the New York Mets last week. Jones figures to have a slightly longer leash this time around. Having the offense figure things out would certainly help.

“I don’t feel like we’re too far off and I don’t feel like we’re panicking,” outfielder Connor Joe said. "The confidence and belief in ourselves and within each other still stay consistent and true, which is a good sign for us.”

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

Pittsburgh Pirates' Ke'Bryan Hayes (13) singles off Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Josh Winckowski, driving in a run, during the first inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates' Ke'Bryan Hayes (13) singles off Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Josh Winckowski, driving in a run, during the first inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman delivers during the eighth inning of the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman delivers during the eighth inning of the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar delivers during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher David Bednar delivers during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Martín Pérez delivers during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Martín Pérez delivers during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz misplays a popup by Boston Red Sox's Wilyer Abreu in short right center field during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. A run scored on the error. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz misplays a popup by Boston Red Sox's Wilyer Abreu in short right center field during the eighth inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, April 21, 2024. A run scored on the error. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

NEW YORK (AP) — The first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs have been the most-watched in the U.S.

Going into the conference finals, the playoffs are averaging 1.16 million viewers across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS and truTV. That is a 9% increase over last year.

The conference semifinals, where all four series went at least six games, averaged 1.55 million, a 12% jump.

The Florida Panthers' 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins in Game 6 on May 17, averaged 2.2 million on TNT, truTV and Max. The first game of the Carolina Hurricanes-New York Rangers series on May 5 averaged 2 million on ESPN.

The first round of the playoffs averaged 934,000 viewers, the second-most watched first round for the NHL in the U.S.

AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

Stanley Cup playoffs averaging record 1.16 million viewers in the U.S. through first 2 rounds

Stanley Cup playoffs averaging record 1.16 million viewers in the U.S. through first 2 rounds

Stanley Cup playoffs averaging record 1.16 million viewers in the U.S. through first 2 rounds

Stanley Cup playoffs averaging record 1.16 million viewers in the U.S. through first 2 rounds

Boston Bruins' Jeremy Swayman (1) and Florida Panthers' Sergei Bobrovsky (72) talk after the Panthers defeated the Bruins in Game 6 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series, Friday, May 17, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Boston Bruins' Jeremy Swayman (1) and Florida Panthers' Sergei Bobrovsky (72) talk after the Panthers defeated the Bruins in Game 6 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series, Friday, May 17, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

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