Mets announcer Keith Hernandez weighs in on Paul Skenes hype, Pirates’ surplus of young arms

Noah Hiles / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Keith Hernandez has seen his share of great pitching. From playing on championship teams that boasted some of his era’s best arms to covering a ball club that has produced no shortage of spectacular starts, the five-time All-Star and beloved Mets commentator has been around to watch many great talents toe the rubber throughout the years.

Hernandez was in town with the Mets this past weekend to cover the team’s four-game series at PNC Park. The 11-time Gold Glove winner said he was excited for the series’ first contest, which featured Pirates rookie phenom Paul Skenes. Hernandez was aware of the hype surrounding the 22-year-old right-hander, and now, after getting to see him in action, he understands the excitement.

“He didn’t have his command, and what impressed me was how he battled through it,” Hernandez recalled of Skenes’ outing to the Post-Gazette in a one-on-one interview. “Then, once in the middle of the game, when they gave him the lead, he found it. That’s the sign of a good pitcher.”

Like many others, Hernandez was impressed with Skenes’ splinker, a pitch that serves as a combination between a sinker and split-finger fastball that Skenes has seemingly mastered during his brief time as a pro. Hernandez noted that the pitch’s movement is unique, and a great option to use against right-handed hitters. But overall, Hernandez was simply impressed by Skenes’ entire arsenal.

“He throws hard, he’s got great poise for a young man, a youngster,” Hernandez said. “He’s got a good breaking ball with those two fastballs. He’s got a bright future.”

While Hernandez was reluctant to compare Skenes, who was named to his first All-Star team Sunday, to any pitcher he has encountered in the past, he was willing to connect the buzz surrounding the Pirates’ rookie phenom to something he was once a part of. In 1984, Hernandez played first base on a Mets team that featured a then-19-year-old rookie Dwight Gooden, who took the game by storm that season by going 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA.

Hernandez said the ballpark was different on the days Gooden would pitch, that an extra buzz could be felt throughout the stadium. He expressed that a sold-out crowd at PNC Park on Friday evening provided a similar feeling.

“I was very pleased to see the stadium packed and fans really into it,” Hernandez said. “It was a fun night. They picked a great time to score 14 runs, in front of that full house. ... To see the fans and that kind of excitement here, it’s wonderful.”

Well after Hernandez’s playing days came to an end, he was in the booth covering the Mets’ “dream rotation,” a group that consisted of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler. He watched as the young quintet helped the Mets capture a pennant in 2015, but he was also there to see injuries prevent the group from sustaining success together in New York.

Hernandez recognizes that the Pirates could soon have a rotation of similar talent. He believes that fans should be excited for the road ahead and hopes the front office can make the most of the window approaching.

“If you’ve got the talent, and they’re out there, they’re going to win you ball games,” Hernandez said. “Pitching has always been the name of the game. So if you have a wealth of pitching talent in the minor leagues, guys that you feel have a chance to be stars or good big-league pitchers, then you really have a chance of turning things around. I’ll take a good pitching staff over a good offense any day.”

Noah Hiles: [email protected] and @_NoahHiles on X