Detroit Tigers’ Tarik Skubal: ‘More aggressive’ approach was key in start No. 2

Detroit Free Press

It was a “déjà vu” situation for Detroit Tigers left-hander Tarik Skubal, and not in a good way.

In his MLB debut Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox, he gave up a leadoff home run to Tim Anderson on a 94 mph fastball. Likewise, in Skubal’s outing Sunday against the Cleveland Indians, Cesar Hernandez went deep on a 95 mph fastball to start the first inning.

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Two starts, two leadoff homers by established big-league hitters off the 23-year-old.

But the way he responded this time was much different.

Setting the tone for a 7-4 win and series victory against the Indians at Progressive Field, Skubal fired 2⅓ innings of one-run ball. He struck out five batters — four with his fastball — and only allowed three hits and one walk, crediting his increased competitiveness, intent and focus for the improved results.

“He’s got a really good fastball,” manager Ron Gardenhire said Sunday. “He’s got some jump onto it, some life to it at the end. He’s just trying to find himself, get comfortable with his situation. Everything will go smoothly for him. This guy’s got great stuff.”

Skubal used his slider to strike out Jose Ramirez swinging and two batters later ended the inning on a whiff by Franmil Reyes on a 97 mph fastball — a much different result than five days earlier against the White Sox, when he gave up four runs in two innings.

He confidently mixed his pitches — 38 fastballs, 17 sliders, 12 changeups and two curveballs — to attack his opponent rather than taking a reserved approach. And he showed signs of how dominant his fastball can become in the majors with seven swinging strikes and four called strikes.

“I just feel like I threw with more conviction and a little bit more aggression,” Skubal said Sunday about his fastball. “I didn’t try to guide it as much, and that’s something I might’ve fallen into my last start. I just felt I had a little more life on it because I was more aggressive.”

After allowing a double to Jordan Luplow to open the second, he came back with three consecutive strikeouts in extended at-bats against Domingo Santana (six pitches), Beau Taylor (seven pitches) and Greg Allen (five pitches).

Skubal wasn’t as dominant in the third, as two runners reached (on a single and an error), and the Indians fouled off 17 of his pitches in his 2⅓ innings.

The Tigers are limiting his pitch count as pitching coach Rick Anderson tries to get him extended, so his day was done early. When Skubal was called up, the most he had thrown at the alternate training site in Toledo was 40 pitches. He missed summer camp with COVID-19, so he hasn’t had as many reps as fellow prospect Casey Mize, who made his debut Wednesday and will start Monday at Comerica Park.

The decision to pull him, however, had nothing to do with the team’s confidence in him to make outs in high-pressure moments.

[ Making sense of Tarik Skubal’s rocky debut with Detroit Tigers ]

“Definitely pitch count,” said Gardenhire, who called in lefty Daniel Norris for two outs in three pitches. “There’s no doubt about it. He was gonna try to get to four innings if he was in the right pitch count, and that’s a lot of pitches. We’re not going to mess with that.”

Still, Skubal was able to make it to nearly 70 pitches because of a variety of factors, including his focus. He watched how left-hander Matthew Boyd adjusted Saturday with his changeup and emulated the approach. Of his 12 changeups, three went for called strikes and another got Francisco Lindor swinging to set up a full count.

For subscribers: The special trait Alan Trammell and Jim Leyland see in Tarik Skubal

The competitiveness Skubal displayed Sunday is what took him from a ninth-round pick (No. 255 overall) in 2018 to the franchise’s No. 5 prospect. It’s why he managed 179 strikeouts in 122⅔ innings last season between High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie.

And it’s why he’s beginning to prove his ability to use his fastball for similar results baseball’s highest level. It won’t be easy, however, as MLB hitters have been more successful fighting off his go-to pitch, forcing him to adjust.

“There has been a lot of foul balls on some good pitches,” Skubal said. “Any mistake, I feel like they get a hit or hit it hard somewhere. But for me, I need to be consistent with every pitch and pitch for strikes.

“Then I’ll be able to locate out of the zone when I need to.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content. 

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