Detroit Tigers’ Tarik Skubal ‘certainly on his way’ to winning starting rotation job

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Don’t expect to see Detroit Tigers left-hander Tarik Skubal back in the minor leagues, surely not if the remainder of his spring training resembles his first two starts.

After posting three scoreless innings in a 10-6 loss Thursday to the Toronto Blue Jays at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, manager AJ Hinch believes Skubal is “certainly on his way” to locking down a job in the starting rotation for the 2021 season.

“I think he’s ready, mentally and physically,” Hinch said. “There’s still some development to be done, but every step along the way, he’s been able to adapt to that level. The next level is the big leagues for him to adapt to after having some success.”

“He entered this camp with the perfect demeanor and the perfect approach to win a job, and he’s certainly on his way to doing that if he continues.”

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On Thursday, Skubal, 24, got four strikeouts: Marcus Semien (splitter, swinging), Teoscar Hernandez (curveball, looking), Rowdy Tellez (fastball, looking) and Gabriel Moreno (slider, swinging). He only allowed one hit — a sharp single from Vladimir Guerrero Jr — without any hits or runs.

Skubal was nearly perfect through his 50 pitches.

“He’s got no fear in throwing it,” Hinch said about Skubal’s splitter, a pitch he learned this offseason. “If he’s able to throw it for a strike and throw it for a ball, that’s a very effective pitch. You don’t see that a ton from left-handed pitchers. That’ll create some uniqueness for him.”

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

This spring, Skubal has tossed five scoreless innings, giving up two hits. He’s struck out six batters and has yet to surrender a walk.

“His demeanor has been exactly the same since the first phone call after I got this job to the first time I saw him in person to the first outing to the (second outing) today,” Hinch said. “He’s pretty dialed in when he’s got the ball in his hand and it’s his turn to pitch.”

Simple is better for Derek Hill

The Tigers selected outfielder Derek Hill with the No. 23 overall pick in the 2014 draft from Elk Grove High School in California. Seven years later, the 25-year-old looks the part of a former first-round pick from a defensive standpoint.

Hill made a diving catcher in right-center field Thursday to take extra bases away from Bo Bichette. And then he crashed into the center-field wall to rob Alejandro Kirk of at least a double.

FROM SUMMER CAMP: Tigers’ Derek Hill has highlight-reel catch. Now he must show he can really hit

Even more impressive, was his 2-for-3 performance at the plate. He tripled in the fifth inning and singled in a run in the seventh inning. His simplified stance, developed by California hitting instructor Doug Latta, jumped out at Hinch this spring.

“He’s a very intriguing player when he’s contributing on both sides,” Hinch said. “We know what we’re going to get defensively. We know he’s going to run the bases. The offensive production has been good.”

In 120 games for Double-A Erie in 2019, Hill hit .243 with 19 doubles, five triples, 14 home runs and 45 RBIs. He had 147 strikeouts and 38 walks. He hit .239 with four homers and 33 RBIs in 106 games for High-A Lakeland in 2018.

Hill is a career .243 hitter in 477 games across six minor league seasons and last year, he made his MLB debut.

“Just trying to keep it as simple as possible,” Hill said Friday. “I figured out last year that things definitely do move at a little bit of a different pace. Not that it’s quicker, but it’s cleaner. I felt I needed to clean up a lot of things in game.”

He went 1-for-11 (.091) in 15 games for the Tigers with six strikeouts and one walk. He only earned one start, primarily serving as a late-game defensive replacement.

Hill is all but guaranteed to start 2021 in Triple-A Toledo.

“The biggest piece for me this offseason was to get off of thinking about my mechanics so much and just worrying about the pitcher more,” Hill said. “Last year, when I would go up in the box and feel something wasn’t right, I would be thinking about what I was doing rather than what the pitcher was doing. This offseason, I just tried to simply everything as much as possible.”

Spencer Torkelson remains hitless

Top prospect Spencer Torkelson — the 2020 No. 1 overall pick — is hitless through 16 plate appearances across seven games (0-for-15, three walks and nine strikeouts) in spring training.

“He’s going to have better camps than this in the future,” Hinch said. “We’re going to keep rolling him out there and getting him some experience. We got to remember that we need to find a way to have him leave the day having some fun. It’s easy to beat yourself up when you make mistakes or punch out.”

In the sixth inning of Thursday’s contest, Torkelson made a throwing error at third base.

[ Inside the mishaps of Tigers’ Spencer Torkelson in first MLB camp, and how he’s learning ]

“It’s relatively meaningless in a career that’s just getting starting,” Hinch said, “but it’s no fun to go through what he’s going through. He wants to make a big impression, and it feels like it’s piling up on him. But we still think he’s a pretty good player.”

Although Torkelson isn’t going to make the MLB roster out of spring training and is likely destined for High-A West Michigan, he survived the first round of spring training cuts. Hinch is going to use him throughout at least the next six games.

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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