Jim Sankey: Extra Innings: Skenes must be in Pittsburgh before Tax Day

Apr. 2—This spring, manager Derek Shelton commented that, when setting Pirates pitching for the season, bringing "the best club north is gonna be important to us."

Well, they didn't start 2024 with the best pitchers.

Some of that was due to non-baseball factors: Last Thursday the team placed key set-up relievers Carmen Mlodzinski and Colin Holderman on the injured list and called up Hunter Stratton and Ryder Ryan. (You could have called him Ryan Ryder, for all I know.) Also, the Bucs placed Roansy Contreras on the paternity list and recalled Jose Hernandez.

Surprisingly, each of the replacements saved or won games in the team's opening series.

The Bucs even sent shock waves throughout Pirates Nation, if not the entire MLB, by adding right-handed prospect Jared Jones to the 40-man roster and selecting him for the big-league club to pitch — and win — the third game of the season.

When the Bucs and Nationals meet tonight, the Pirates, baseball's first team to five wins will be the only 5-0 team in the National League.

Everyone realizes that the Bucs have completed just three percent of the season and that last year's 20-8 start ended with a 22-games-under-.500 record 56-78 the final 134 games. Just a 50-50 split (67-67) would have resulted in an overall record of 84-78, better than both National League champion Arizona and wild card Miami.

Helped by an offense that has scored at least six runs in each game for the first time since 1900, the Bucs needed those runs on Sunday when the Pirates shocking selection of Bailey Falter as a starter didn't surprise many when after facing the Marlins' first five hitters, the Pirates were down 5-0.

Few were surprised: In 16 innings pitched this spring, he allowed a team-high six homers and 14 runs to go with his 7.88 ERA. And it wasn't as if his 2023 stats factored in the keeping him: Falter went 2-9 overall, and 2-2 in Pittsburgh, serving up 10 homers in 40 innings while posting a 5.58 ERA.

But what other choice did the Pirates have?

Perhaps you've heard of a young right-handed pitcher named Paul Skenes. Tabbed as the best pitcher in a generation, the number one draft pick last summer was sent to the minors to start this season to make room for Falter.

In his Indianapolis debut Saturday, Skenes tossed three perfect innings, striking out five, walking none and throwing 21 of fastballs at an average speed of 100.1 mph. He totaled 29 strikes in 46 pitches overall.

I'm Ok with all of that ... if this is what happens at the end of next week:

Players receive Major League service time for each day spent on the 26-man roster or the majors' injured list. Service time is used to determine when players are eligible for arbitration as well as free agency.

According to, each MLB regular season consists of 187 days and each day spent on the active roster or injured list earns a player one day of service time towards the total of 172 days required to qualify for one year of service. Upon reaching six years of MLB service, a player becomes eligible for free agency at the end of that season unless he has signed a contract extension that covers one or more of his free agency seasons.

So simply, calling up Skenes on the 16th day of the season, thereby keeping him off the major-league club for 16 days, would allow him to accrue a maximum of 171 days of service time, one day short of the required 172.

In the case of Skenes, his first full year of service would come after the 2025 season, meaning the Bucs would control him until after the 2030 season.

In the case of Jones, the Bucs could prevent him from reaching a year of service by sending him to the minors for 16 days later this season.

So I have no problem with delaying Skene's debut until April 13, the 17th day of this season, gladly accepting his 171 days for 2024 that won't total a year of service.

But if he's not here then, I'm with the legion of baseball folks who believe every inning pitched in the minors is a waste of Skenes, and the Pirates have wasted another PR opportunity.

Next week's column will discuss other service time factors and look at how the Bucs could easily limit innings by their two young stars this season.

JIM SANKEY is the Pittsburgh Pirates columnist for Allied News. His 'Extra Innings' pieces run weekly during the baseball season.