DETROIT — Tarik Skubal got his turn at a developmental inning Friday night at Comerica Park, like Casey Mize had done a week before.
He had used 85 pitches over four innings, the kind of pitch count that has troubled him many times this season, and had just walked two batters in the fourth. The Tigers had Erasmo Ramírez warming in the bullpen, but manager A.J. Hinch stuck with Skubal for one more inning against the Twins, taking him past his previous career high of 90 pitches.
Skubal made the most of it, striking out his first two batters and allowing a Josh Donaldson bloop single before retiring Nelson Cruz on his 96th and final pitch, just before the first of two rain delays. Skubal ended up taking the loss in the Tigers’ 7-3 defeat, their 18th in 21 games, but his five innings were a step forward from his opening-month struggles.
Both runs off of Skubal were home runs to lead off his first two innings, and they both came on sliders. His fifth pitch of the night was diving for the outside corner when Kyle Garlick poked it over the right-field fence for an opposite-field homer. By contrast, Skubal’s 1-1 slider an inning later hung over the plate for Jorge Polanco to send into the left-field seats. The 100.3 mph drive was the only ball hit off Skubal to reach triple digits in exit velocity, according to Statcast.
Skubal struck out five of his other six batters in those two innings. The only ball the Tigers’ defense touched before the third was Max Kepler’s popout behind home plate.
Skubal’s back-to-back strikeouts in the fifth pushed him to eight for the game, tying his career high from last September vs. the Royals. Three of his strikeouts Friday came on a splitter, a pitch that has been a project for him since last winter. However, the pitch has been inconsistent all season, to the point that Tigers coaches were starting to hope he would throw fewer of them. His 22 splitters looked different Friday, nearly four miles per hour slower than his season average but with slightly more movement.
What had been a pitching duel between Skubal and Detroit area native Matt Shoemaker before the rain opened up to showcase more offense in the sixth. Two walks from reliever Bryan Garcia came around to score, but Willi Castro’s three-run homer off Cody Stashak in the bottom of the inning closed the gap. Akil Baddoo came within inches of tying it, but his drive hit the right-field wall for a two-out double. More add-on runs for the Twins, including Max Kepler’s eighth-inning homer off Daniel Norris, put the game away.