Tarik Skubal had to have a sense of déjà vu as César Hernández’s drive carried over the center-field fence at Progressive Field. It was the second leadoff home run in as many Major League starts for Skubal, both times to a middle infielder wearing No. 7.
What followed for Skubal
What followed for Skubal on Sunday afternoon was vastly different than his big league debut Tuesday night. The resulting 7-4 Tigers win over the Indians led to a series win not seen in two years.
The Tigers arrived in Cleveland having lost 20 consecutive games to the Indians. They left town Sunday with their first series victory since September 2018. Francisco Liriano was the winning pitcher in the rubber match of that three-game series in Cleveland. Skubal was a relatively anonymous ninth-round Draft pick then, having finished his first Minor League season in the bullpen at Class A West Michigan.
Skubal, the Tigers’ fifth-ranked prospect and the No. 50 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100, didn’t get the win Sunday. Yet, after the Hernandez homer, his 2 1/3 innings were a reminder why he rose so quickly: Power, poise, pitch mix and strikeouts.
Five days after Skubal gave up four runs on seven hits over two innings against the White Sox, there was a chance for similar crooked innings. After the leadoff homer, his two-out walk to Carlos Santana extended the opening inning for right-handed slugger Franmil Reyes. Skubal challenged Reyes with fastballs on the inner half of the plate, fanning him on a 97 mph pitch up and in and setting a theme.
After Jordan Luplow doubled off the right-field wall leading off the second inning, Skubal sent down the bottom third of Cleveland’s lineup in order, all swinging at fastballs — 95 mph at the knees to Domingo Santana, 95 over the plate to Beau Taylor, then 96 off the plate to Greg Allen.