Detroit Tigers rookie Tarik Skubal carved up White Sox. Here’s what he needs to do next

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers rookie Tarik Skubal joined an elite group of pitchers Saturday when he dominated the Chicago White Sox through five innings, racking up 11 strikeouts.

Along with helping the Tigers (24-34) to a 4-3 win over the White Sox in Chicago, Skubal etched his name in the history books, joining some of the players he grew up watching, with four straight starts of at least eight strikeouts.

“I was just pretty aggressive,” Skubal said. “The way that (Jake Rogers) called the game and our game plan that we had going into it, just being able to execute that. That’s where the punch outs come from, just being able to trust what he’s putting down and executing.”

Skubal, 24, joined Noah Syndergaard, Jose Fernandez, Yu Darvish and Stephen Strasburg as one of five rookies since 2010 to accomplish the feat. He also became the 10th pitcher in franchise history — a group that includes Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Jack Morris, Hal Newhouser and five others — to reach this mark.

The icing on the cake: Skubal’s 11 strikeouts tied him with Michael Fulmer (2016), Pat Underwood (1979) and Morris (1977) for the most punchouts by a Tigers rookie since 1974.

“It’s pretty cool to be mentioned with those guys,” Skubal said. “At the same time, I’m not focused on that. I’m just focused on continuing to get better and building on each start.”

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Skubal has rolled through his opponents lately, striking out nine batters against the Seattle Mariners on May 19, nine against Cleveland on May 25, eight against the New York Yankees on May 30 and 11 against the White Sox on Saturday.

During the four-game stretch, Skubal has a 2.14 ERA, 37 strikeouts and nine walks over 21 innings.

Skubal indeed took another step forward in his start against the American League Central-leading White Sox, who feature one of the highest-scoring lineups in the majors. Just four of his 15 outs came on balls in play, while he threw 72 of 103 pitches for strikes.

“We love the punchouts, but they also drive the pitch count up,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “You started to see him settle in and be very comfortable with all his pitches. He even came up to me after his outing and was talking about how he felt like he could go deeper. But he looks up and he’s at (103) pitches in five innings.

“Sometimes that’s a strikeout, sometimes that’s long at-bats. A lot of times, it’s just mixing in some non-competitive pitches.”

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The White Sox gave him trouble in the first inning, as Tim Anderson doubled and Nick Madrigal singled to take an early 1-0 lead. But Skubal retired the next three batters, then struck out the side in the second inning.

“He gets the ball, works fast and fills up the strike zone for the most part,” said left fielder/catcher Eric Haase, who crushed two home runs Saturday for the third time this season. “It’s awesome to play behind (in left field). It’s great to catch, as well.”

Haase’s first home run, off White Sox starter Lucas Giolito, occurred in the second inning and gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead. His second home run, also off Giolito, pushed the Tigers ahead 3-1 in the fourth inning.

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“Now, I’m in the lead,” Skubal said.

His confidence exploded in the second and third innings. He struck out Danny Mendick and Anderson — winning a nine-pitch battle with Anderson — for the first two outs. Back-to-back singles from Madrigal and Yoan Moncada put runners on the corners.

Skubal then struck out Jose Abreu, the 2020 AL MVP, with a fastball to end the third. He bounced off the mound and trotted into the dugout. The lefty had 20 swings-and-misses from seven four-seam fastballs, five sliders, five two-seam fastballs and three changeups.

“I think I did a good job of getting that fastball not only up, but in,” Skubal said. “It’s a tough pitch to handle up and in, and those guys are really good. Just being able to keep them honest up and in, and then expanding off that was huge for me.”

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In the fourth inning, Skubal struck out two more ChiSox. He then chipped in two more strikeouts in the fifth and worked around consecutive one-out walks. For Skubal’s final out, Abreu flied out to center fielder Derek Hill.

Skubal finished his five innings at 103 pitches, the only negative from his performance.

“There’s a lot of pluses that come in an outing like this,” Hinch said, “even though it didn’t go an inning or two as long as we wanted.”

The Tigers have asked Skubal to pitch deeper into games, but he has yet to pitch in the seventh  inning in 2021 and has finished the sixth just twice. Facing 22 batters Saturday, he used 18 pitches in the first inning, 15 in the second, 24 in the third, 19 in the fourth and 27 in the fifth.

Lowering the pitch count is Skubal’s goal moving forward.

“There were six-pitch, seven-pitch at-bats, where I had guys 0-2 in two pitches,” Skubal said. “Those guys need to be either on or off in four (pitches). Maybe take my shot with two strikes and then either they have a hit or they’re out in four pitches.

“Limit those long ABs and go from there to hopefully work deeper into games.”

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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