Skubal’s ‘fine line’ in rematch vs. Twins

Detroit Tigers

Tarik Skubal’s sprint through the Tigers’ farm system and up the prospect rankings last year included a midseason promotion to Double-A Erie. After allowing an unearned run over five innings of one-hit ball with 11 strikeouts against Altoona in his Eastern League debut, the left-hander faced the same Pirates prospects

Tarik Skubal’s sprint through the Tigers’ farm system and up the prospect rankings last year included a midseason promotion to Double-A Erie. After allowing an unearned run over five innings of one-hit ball with 11 strikeouts against Altoona in his Eastern League debut, the left-hander faced the same Pirates prospects five days later — and struck out 10 of them over five innings with one run allowed on three hits, setting the course for his Double-A dominance.

As Skubal prepares to face the Twins on Saturday (7:10 p.m. ET, live on MLB.TV), a week after tossing five innings of two-run ball against them at Comerica Park for his first Major League win, he’s trying to find the balance: Stick with what worked last time, or keep them off-balance with a slightly different look?

“That’s the fine line,” Skubal said. “You want to pitch to your strengths, but the hitters will tell you when you make adjustments in a game. You have this game plan that you try to execute, but the hitters will let you know what’s working and what’s not.”

It’s an especially tricky balance against the Twins. After crushing lefties for a .285/.351/.521 slash line last season, they’re hitting just .242/.308/.349 off southpaws in 2020. They managed just three hits off Skubal last Saturday, a Nelson Cruz solo homer along with line-drive singles from Miguel Sanó and Eddie Rosario.

Skubal induced six swings and misses in 70 pitches that game. Four swinging strikes came off the fastball, a pitch he leaned on heavily compared with his usual mix. Skubal has spent his extra time between starts working on his secondary pitches, so he could throw a wider variety if he can get them working.

“Command’s not quite where I want it to be,” he said. “I’m working on everything — changeup, slider, curveball, fastball command, staying behind everything and trying to make everything as sharp as possible.”

Further complicating his rematch is the return of right-handed hitters Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton from the injured list. Donaldson hit just .215 off lefties last year but had more walks (32) than hits (26), resulting in a .395 on-base percentage. Buxton hit .317 with a .923 OPS off lefties last year.

Alcantara called up with Goodrum still injured
Neither a day off Wednesday nor Thursday’s scheduled off-day did enough to allow Niko Goodrum (lower right side strain) to return to the lineup, so the Tigers called up Sergio Alcántara from the alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio, to serve as the extra player for Friday’s doubleheader.

“Still day-to-day, still a little sore,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I just don’t want him trying to jump out there too early and then take a swing and next thing you know he’s out for two more weeks.”

It’s the first big league stint for Alcantara, who was part of the J.D. Martinez trade three years ago before spending the last two seasons in Erie.

“I know he can play defense. He can really pick it out there,” Gardenhire said. “He’s fundamentally sound, he’s got a cannon of an arm, and he’s really developed into a really good infielder. I questioned whether he was going to be strong enough to hit, but I can tell you — in Spring Training, he hit.”

The 24-year-old switch-hitter missed much of Summer Camp while in COVID-19 protocol. He said Friday morning that he was asymptomatic but shut down for two weeks.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long, long time. When I was down [in Toledo], I was doing my job so I was going to be able to have this opportunity. And finally, I got it.”

Gardy looks for Gardy
The Twins had cardboard cutouts of team legends in the stands at Target Field. One of them is of Gardenhire from his days as the Twins’ manager, when he won six American League Central titles in a nine-year span. Friday marked Gardenhire’s first game back at Target Field this season, and his first chance to find himself, so to speak.

“Somebody sent me a picture of me,” Gardenhire said. “It looked like I was hiding, which is a good thing. But I know it’s somewhere near our dugout. I’d rather be in the outfield. I wish they had put me in the outfield.”

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

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