In only the sixth game of his MLB career, Detroit Tigers left-hander Tarik Skubal registered eight strikeouts through six innings.
Manager Ron Gardenhire didn’t let him go back out for the seventh, but the 23-year-old could have. He felt good. His stuff was great. His command was even better.
He fought hard in a pitching duel.
“Our guy threw the ball pretty doggone good,” Gardenhire said Wednesday. “We were happy with Skoobs.”
Skubal allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits. He didn’t walk anybody. His fastball command set the tone early, funneling into an increased use of his change-up the second time through the Kansas City Royals’ batting order. He produced 17 swinging strikes.
Typically, that would result in a win.
But not Wednesday, as the Tigers (21-27) were handed a 4-0 loss by Royals rookie Brady Singer, the No. 18 pick from the 2018 draft. After taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning in his last start against Cleveland, Singer tossed six scoreless innings in Detroit. Although the opposition was at his best, Skubal didn’t back down in a battle that seems likely to recur in years to come.
“He pitched really well tonight,” Skubal said Wednesday of Singer. “He’s really talented. I remember hearing about him in college and stuff, but I never saw him like I did tonight.”
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Skubal didn’t fold, not even when he fell behind, 2-0, in the first inning on a two-run homer by veteran catcher Salvador Perez. Skubal put a 95.1 mph fastball up in the strike zone to Perez, who sent it over the left-field wall, also plating Adalberto Mondesi — who reached because of Sergio Alcantara’s error.
Skubal’s outing began with 15 fastballs in a row, and Perez just found the right one to hit. He did the same in the sixth inning with an 82.2 mph changeup, slapping it to right field for an RBI double and a 3-0 lead.
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“He’s most effective when he’s forcing the other team to respect his fastball, and then the next innings to follow, he started mixing more of his breaking stuff,” catcher Eric Haase said Wednesday. “His changeup looked really good tonight. I mean, he made two mistakes to a veteran hitter. Unfortunately, that was the difference in the ballgame.”
Yet Skubal’s two pitches to Perez weren’t really the difference.
Not when Singer was pitching for the Royals. The Florida alum struck out the first five Tigers he faced.
“We just can’t win with two hits,” Gardenhire said. “Tip your cap to that kid. He threw the heck out of the ball. He was locating everything, and when he did misfire, he’d come back. He’s got deception with that windup. The ball comes out really quick. That’s a quick arm.”
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Still, the lesson for the night was Skubal’s ability to bounce back from a rocky start and battle against a pitcher projected to be much better than him. Just as Singer had to wait as the Tigers’ Casey Mize was selected No. 1 overall in 2018, Skubal waited through both, going just 237 picks after Singer, at No. 255 overall.
Skubal’s last outing came in the Tigers’ 12-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of a Sept. 10 doubleheader. Another veteran catcher, Yadier Molina, crushed a two-run homer in the second inning, and the rookie crumbled in the third. He faced four batters that inning without recording an out, ending up with six earned runs in the game.
This time, instead of mixing his pitches early, he pounded the strike zone with his fastball. After Perez’s homer, he settled in to retire 14 of the next 15 batters. He ended up using 57% fastballs, 22% change-ups, 11% sliders and 10% curveballs in his 90-pitch performance.
He gave the Tigers everything they needed.
The offense just never clicked in a battle Skubal gave himself a chance to win.
“This is what we were waiting for,” Gardenhire said. “We enjoy seeing these kids pitch. Mize, of course, and Skoobs. That’s pretty important for this organization going forward.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.