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Paul Skenes started right after Shohei Ohtani. The result was a brilliant piece of baseball theater

Pittsburgh Pirates rookie Paul Skenes quickly made an impression on Los Angles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani

PITTSBURGH — Paul Skenes wanted to throw something other than a fastball to Shohei Ohtani.

Only he couldn’t.

None of Skenes’ most effective tricks worked during his warmups, so the Pittsburgh Pirates rookie stared at arguably the most dangerous hitter in baseball during the first inning on Wednesday night and dropped the pretense.

Skenes stretched his 6-foot-6 frame three times and sent a 100-mph fastball north toward Ohtani.

Three times, the Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter unleashed his trademark swing, lowering his right leg to give the bat, which tests the far corners of the pitch, room to move with alarming regularity.

And Ohtani missed. Once. Twice. Three times.

Major League Baseball began tracking the pitch in 2008. That first-inning clash, which turned into a 10-6 victory for Pittsburgh, was the first time a starting pitcher had three straight triple-hit at-bats in which the batter swung and failed to make contact each time.

“I saw that we had hope that we could beat him with that fastball,” Skenes said. “I kept going there and it worked.”

Well, it worked then anyway.

When Ohtani entered the penalty area with a player on the court in the third period, Skenes again tried to pass him. What came at 100 mph stayed at 105 mph as the Japanese superstar responded by tossing Skenes’ sacrifice fly into the Los Angeles bullpen behind the center-field wall for a two-run homer.

“I like to call it ‘the great on the great’ because obviously I’ve beaten him a few times before,” Skenes, 22, said. “I think it was the right pitch to throw there. He’s just a damn good player. These things happen.”

Especially in the face of Ohtani.

The blast was Ohtani’s 15th home run of the season. The 29-year-old two-time AL MVP later added a single against Skenes, though he praised the right-hander’s skills, adding that it wasn’t Skenes’ speed that stood out. It’s the way all the power comes out of three-quarters of the pass, which makes the ball seem to explode out of his hand.

Still, the Dodgers made Skenes work.

Jason Heyward launched a 100 mph fastball and hit it off the Roberto Clemente wall for a double in the second inning. Andy Pages flipped a slider that had missed the center of the plate to the left-field seats, setting up a homer in the fifth over.

Los Angeles and its star-studded lineup continued to arrive. An error and two singles shortly after Pages’ home run loaded the bases and gave Teoscar Hernadez a chance to tie the game. Instead, he drove hard into third to end the threat and Skenes’ night.

“Good luck,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said of Skenes. “He will give up home runs. But when you make a mistake, load the bases, and have to fight your way through that lineup again, it’s not easy. There are All-Stars in it. She is very impressed with his composure.”

Skenes finished the game with eight strikeouts and is 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 27 innings since being called up last month. For the most part in his five starts, he has looked like the future ace the Pirates envisioned when selecting him first overall in the 2023 draft.

However, Skenes and catcher Yasmani Grandal emphasized that he was still far from finished. That’s what makes working with Skenes so enticing for Grandal, 35. It’s on the ground floor of something that could turn out to be quite special.

Even if “Skenes” is just ordinary. He only had his fastball against one of the best lineups in the major leagues, and he still found a way. Grandal can’t help but think what Skenes might have done if his “splinker” – a splitter-weight hybrid – had worked.

“If he lost speed, I think he would have been able to go six, seven (rounds),” Grandal said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he got at least eight.”

Asked if he had seen Skenes at his best yet, Grandal shook his head and replied “not even close.” Fair enough, considering Skenes has been playing in the major leagues for less than a month.

Pirates manager Derek Shelton quashed the notion that Skenes and fellow hard-throwing rookie Jared Jones could be considered for All-Star status, pointing out: “I think we’re way ahead of ourselves.”

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