Tarik Skubal had an impossible act to follow.
“I don’t know if I was trying to one-up,” the Detroit Tigers’ rookie left-hander said. “It would be really hard to one-up a no-hitter.”
Skubal was the next man up in the rotation, after Spencer Turnbull no-hit the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. Skubal lasted five innings but found a way to make it a “really special” night.
Playing in front of approximately 50 friends and ex-college teammates, Skubal struck out a career-high nine batters and collected his first win this season.
The Tigers, who had lost all of his six previous starts this spring, finished off a three-game sweep with a 6-2 victory Wednesday at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
“This is a start that I’ll remember because I spent a lot of time here and went through a lot here,” said Skubal, who attended Seattle University. “This place will always have kind of a special place in my heart.”
Skubal surrendered a two-out, two-run homer to Kyle Seager in the first inning, an 0-2 fastball clubbed over the right-field wall.
“I got beat on a pitch I didn’t execute and that’s the difference between having a scoreless outing and two runs on the board in the first inning,” he said.
Skubal was mad at himself and took out his frustration on the Mariners’ hitters the next four innings.
“He’s got to pitch with a little edge, a little anger at times,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said.
What was most telling was that he never got over-emotional or flustered, even when he briefly lost his control in the fifth.
He walked the leadoff batter, Sam Haggerty, after getting ahead in the count 0-2. He then threw three straight balls to Jose Marmolejos.
Skubal found the strike zone once again and put Marmolejos away with a 95 mph heater.
After allowing a single, Skubal struck out Mitch Haniger on three pitches, then notched his ninth strikeout on a 3-2 slider to Kyle Lewis.
Skubal deftly mixed his fastball and slider with a much-improved changeup.
“I loved how he didn’t let anything get to him,” Hinch said. “He was a little frustrated with himself after the walk and homer in the first but he never carried it to the next at-bat. He finished his outing very, very strong.”
The Tigers’ hitters administered a series of jabs, rather than searching for the knockout punch. They had just one extra base hit, a Robbie Grossman double, but scored in four different innings.
“That’s really who we are when we’re at our best,” Hinch said. “I know the long ball is impressive and we have our fair share of homers. Everybody likes to see them but the quality of our at-bats have really picked up in the last couple of weeks.”
No one embodies that approach more than Harold Castro, who drove in three runs and raised his average to .343 with three singles. He has just one extra-base hit this season.
Castro, a natural infielder, started in center field.
“Putting him in center field and sitting Akil (Baddoo) and JaCoby (Jones) will tell you exactly how I feel about how he’s playing right now,” Hinch said.
The Tigers (17-26) are feeling a lot better about themselves after winning eight of 10. After an off day Thursday, they head into a weekend series against Kansas City looking for more memorable nights.
“It feels good because we’re playing winning baseball,” Hinch said. “We’re playing a cleaner brand of baseball. The at-bats have been very good, our game-planning has been very good, our pitching has settled in a little bit and the starters are logging some innings. We’ve found our mojo and it’s been a nice little run.”