Detroit Tigers’ Tarik Skubal learns Casey Mize’s splitter: ‘I want it to be a plus pitch’

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — If Detroit Tigers left-hander Tarik Skubal could emulate one thing from Casey Mize‘s arsenal, it would be the nasty splitter that helped the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick reach the majors.

This winter, Skubal went to Driveline Baseball — self-described as the world’s best data-driven baseball player development program — as part of his stay with fellow starting pitcher Matthew Boyd in Seattle.

The goal was to find the best grip for his changeup. But Skubal’s results weren’t encouraging, so he nixed his changeup in favor of a Mize-esque splitter.

“I just wasn’t very confident in what I was seeing,” Skubal said Tuesday. “It just wasn’t the pitch that I wanted. When I went up there, I did two pitch design sessions. And the second one, they’re like, ‘Hey, we want you to try out a splitter.’ A couple of throws later, I really liked it, (and) they really liked it. That’s how that developed.”

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What’s fascinating is Skubal’s new splitter isn’t just an alteration of the grip for his changeup. It’s a legitimate splitter, and he wants it to act like Mize’s offering — keeping hitters at bay with a sharp break toward the dirt.

“I want the depth that his pitch has, and the horizontal bite,” Skubal said. “I want it to play by itself. I want it to be a plus pitch and not have to work off the fastball as much.”

Last season, Skubal logged a 5.63 ERA, 37 strikeouts and 11 walks across 32 innings in eight appearances. He used a four-seam fastball (348 times), changeup (97), slider (93), curveball (46) and cutter (7). His fastball velocity averaged 94.4 mph.

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Skubal worked on his splitter Tuesday with catcher Jake Rogers, a fellow prospect seeking a return to the majors in 2021. He tossed live against Riley Greene, Robbie Grossman and JaCoby Jones, but none of them swung the bat.

They were just getting comfortable in the batter’s box.

“Got with Rog earlier and was like, ‘Hey, let’s throw this a little bit more often, just so I can get a feel for it when guys step in there,’ ” Skubal said. … “Physically, I feel good. Comparing to last year, my body feels really good. Just trying to keep that going forward.”

Rogers: Hinch is ‘honest’

When manager AJ Hinch conducted his one-on-one meeting with Rogers, he didn’t hold back in his evaluation of the 25-year-old. Hitting seems to be the missing piece of Rogers’ game, displayed by his .125 batting average across 35 games in 2019.

Yet Hinch made it a point to remind Rogers that his defense, sometimes lacking as a result of focusing too much on offense, needs to be his No. 1 priority. He had nine passed balls in 34 games at catcher two seasons ago.

“In my head, I know that’s my bread and butter,” Rogers said Tuesday. “I’ve got to always do that well. It was a good talk. I like how honest he is. I’m a pretty brutally honest person myself, so I respect that out of anybody.

“Hearing that from him, and just knowing I got to do what I need to do and worry about that. But hitting comes, and I’ve been working out with him and (hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh).”

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Soto close to camp, Urena not far behind

Left-handed reliever Gregory Soto and right-handed starter Jose Urena were delayed to spring training because of visa and travel issues. They have been in the United States since Thursday but remain unable to get inside the team’s facility.

Soto and Urena, now in Lakeland, are still going through the COVID-19 intake screening process.

“They’re able to play catch on their own while they’re going through their protocols,” Hinch said Tuesday. “I’ve seen them from a distance playing catch (after the other players leave). … They’re doing some work to prepare, even though they’re not allowed inside the doors of the facility.”

Hinch expects Soto to join camp Wednesday or Thursday.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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