Akil Baddoo, Tarik Skubal shine, but Detroit Tigers squander lead in 9-3 loss to Cleveland

Detroit Free Press

Akil Baddoo swung the bat.

He flicked his wrist. His bat bounced off the dirt.

And he watched the baseball fly.

The 22-year-old earned the start in left field for the Detroit Tigers in Sunday’s 9-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians. The Tigers (2-1) were unable to complete a three-game sweep at Comerica Park.

On the first pitch he saw in his first at-bat in the majors vs. right-hander Aaron Civale in the third inning — an 89.3 mph fastball — Baddoo drove the ball the opposite way, and it landed beyond the left-field fence for a solo home run.

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The Tigers selected Baddoo in December’s Rule 5 draft from the Minnesota Twins. He made the team by going 13-for-40 (.325) in spring training with two doubles, five home runs, 11 RBIs, 10 walks and 14 strikeouts.

In his MLB debut, Baddoo finished 1-for-3 with one strikeout.

The Tigers squandered the lead in the seventh inning. Left-hander Daniel Norris — who got the final two outs in the sixth — gave up four runs on four hits. Yu Chang had a two-run single with no outs, followed by a two-run homer from Jordan Luplow. The bullpen continued its demise in the eighth, when righty Buck Farmer allowed a two-run shot to Franmil Reyes. In the ninth, Austin Hedges homered off lefty Tyler Alexander.

Tigers leadoff hitter Robbie Grossman, signed to a two-year, $10 million contract this offseason, has drawn walks in eight of his 13 plate appearances in three games. He remains hitless.

The Tigers shift their focus to a three-game series against the Twins from Monday through Wednesday at Comerica Park. Detroit has an off day Thursday before going to Cleveland for a three-game slate starting Friday.

Right-hander Jose Urena is starting Monday’s clash with the Twins.

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Historical context

As breathtaking as Baddoo’s homer run was — considering his story as a Rule 5 draft pick — there are a couple of historical notes to point out. On Sunday, Baddoo’s parents sat behind home plate to watch their son’s incredible memory unfold.

Baddoo is the ninth Tiger to homer in his first MLB at-bat, along with Sergio Alcantara (2020), Daniel Norris (2015), Reggie Sanders (1974), Gene Lamont (1970), Bill Roman (1964), Gates Brown (1963), Sam Vico (1948) and Hack Miller (1944). Baddoo and Vico are the only players in franchise history to homer on the first pitch of their careers.

Baddoo hasn’t played above High-A in the minor leagues. He missed most of the 2019 season because of Tommy John surgery, and didn’t play in 2020 because the minor leagues were shut down for COVID-19 concerns.

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He must stay on the active 26-man roster with the Tigers for the entire 2021 season, or else he must be offered back to the Twins. If he continues to produce, the Tigers won’t hesitate to give him a long-term role in the rebuild.

Skubal’s first start

Left-hander Tarik Skubal started for the Tigers and pitched into the sixth inning. He gave up two runs on four hits and two walks. He picked up four strikeouts, all generated by his four-seam fastball. His fastball reached 97.1 mph.

After Eddie Rosario singled to drive in a run in the first inning, Skubal kept the Indians at bay. He limited the possibilities for damage and put the Tigers in a strong position to win. In the sixth, Skubal puts two runners in scoring position with one out. Again, Rosario came through with an RBI groundout to trim Cleveland’s deficit to 3-2.

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Skubal got seven swings-and-misses with his 87 pitches (53 strikes): six whiffs with his four-seamer and one with his slider. He recorded 14 called strikes and got the Indians to foul away 16 pitches. He used 52 four-seam fastballs, 26 sliders, five curveballs and four splitters.

Mazara gets his first, too

Right fielder Nomar Mazara launched his first home run, tying his total from last year with the Chicago White Sox. He belted a slider from Civale to the right-field seats in the first inning.

After hitting 79 total home runs across 537 games in his first four MLB seasons (with the Texas Rangers from 2016-19), Mazara disappointed amid a shortened schedule with merely one homer through 42 games for the White Sox in 2020.

Now, the 25-year-old has one homer in three games for the Tigers. This season, Mazara is 4-for-11 (.364) with three RBIs and three strikeouts. He signed this winter on a one-year, $1.75 million contract.

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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