Why Detroit Tigers’ Tarik Skubal is finding success by pitching with ‘full conviction’

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers rookie Tarik Skubal walked off the mound Sunday after completing the sixth inning. He got a fist bump from catcher Eric Haase — and a firm handshake from manager AJ Hinch — after his eight-strikeout performance.

Even better, a standing ovation from the fans at Comerica Park.

Skubal, 24, led the Tigers (22-31) to a 6-2 win over the New York Yankees. It was the team’s first sweep against the Yankees in Detroit since 2000. The 6-foot-3 left-hander became the first rookie since Les Cain in 1970 with at least eight strikeouts in three consecutive appearances.

“I think I just did a better job of being present pitch by pitch, getting the sign and really having full conviction on every throw,” Skubal said. “And then just not worrying about the result or anything like that. Just being very present. That’s something I did good today.”

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Skubal pitched six scoreless innings, allowing three hits and three walks. He is coming into his own and establishing himself as a formidable starting pitcher — while showing signs of dominance — in the major leagues.

In his past three games, spanning 16 innings, Skubal owns a 2.25 ERA  with six walks and 26 strikeouts. He struck out nine against the Seattle Mariners on May 19, nine against Cleveland on May 25 and eight Sunday against the Yankees.

“He really got strong as the outing went along,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen this a few times, once he catches his rhythm and timing and his delivery syncs up…. To keep (the first) inning from unraveling or from letting them get any momentum, it shut them down from the very beginning. And then he got really good.”

For that, Skubal has third baseman Jeimer Candelario to thank.

Skubal put runners on first and second base with no outs in the first inning. Like his previous starts, the early results indicated he might struggle. Instead, Candelario fielded a hot-shot ground ball from Aaron Judge and started a smooth double play.

The next batter, Gio Urshela, lined out to shortstop Zack Short to end the inning.

“I talked to (Chris Fetter, pitching coach) about that working in the bullpen,” Skubal said. “He would kind of notice later in the games I would finally sync up mechanically and my command would increase and everything would just get a little more sharp.

“Maybe starting my rhythm a little bit faster, or trying to have a little bit faster leg lift, to get everything going. That’s something I worked on in my bullpen, and then in my pregame stuff.”

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From that point, Skubal locked in. After Clint Frazier’s second-inning single, which deflected off the pitcher’s left hand, Skubal retired the 13 of the final 15 batters he faced. His most impressive sequence came in the third inning — arguably the best inning of his MLB career.

Skubal tossed eight pitches in the third against the best players in New York’s lineup.

All eight went for strikes.

He got leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu (Birmingham Brother Rice) to ground out on a second-pitch curveball. Then, Giancarlo Stanton and Judge each struck out swinging on three pitches. The pitch mix to Stanton: Changeup, four-seam fastball and curveball. The pitch mix to Judge: Curveball, four-seam fastball and slider.

“Going right at guys is something important for me,” Skubal said. “Being able to get guys into two-strike counts and put them away instead of going into 0-2, then 2-2 or 0-2 to 3-2 or foul ball, foul ball. That gets the pitch count up. Being able to put guys away with two strikes was big.”

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Through six innings, Skubal fired 19 first-pitch strikes to 23 batters. He threw 64 of his 95 pitches for strikes.

Skubal relied heavily on his four-seam fastball, using it 53 times. He was smart when mixing in his 17 sliders and 15 changeups. He got 15 swings and misses, including seven with his fastball, three with his slider and four with his changeup, along with 19 called strikes.

“I thought his feel for his secondary pitches improved as the outing went on,” Hinch said. “He had a really good fastball, generated a lot of swings and misses on all pitches. At the beginning of the game, you wonder how deep he is going to go.

“You look back after six innings, no runs, quality start, gave his team a chance to win, it’s a very impressive performance.”

After 11 games (nine starts) this season, Skubal has a 4.59 ERA wth 57 strikeouts and 23 walks in 49 innings. While those numbers don’t seem like much to get excited about, he is getting better with each start.

The recent success is part of his journey to becoming an elite starting pitcher.

“That’s part of my process, just getting more comfortable and confident in my stuff,” Skubal said. “Understanding how to attack hitters and go about it.”

Roster move

After Sunday’s win, the Tigers optioned right-handed reliever Bryan Garcia to Triple-A Toledo and recalled righty Rony Garcia from the minor leagues. Hinch plans to use him Monday against the Milwaukee Brewers — either as the starter or out of the bullpen.

Across 19 games and 18⅔ innings this season, Bryan Garcia had a 5.30 ERA, 14 walks and 18 strikeouts. Against the Yankees on Sunday, Garcia allowed two runs on two hits and one walk, with one strikeout but couldn’t make it out of the eighth inning.

Rony Garcia has excelled in Toledo this season, with a 3.20 ERA in four starts. Through 19⅔ innings, he allowed 10 walks while picking up 24 strikeouts. The 23-year-old pitched for the Tigers in 2020 as a Rule 5 draft pick, logging an 8.14 ERA in 21 innings. He appeared in 15 games, making two starts.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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