Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Jose Urena and Julio Teheran were supposed to be the stabilizers on the Detroit Tigers’ starting staff. Prized rookies Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal were expected to be complementary pieces and gain valuable lessons along the way.
Instead, Mize and Skubal have become the foundation of a staff beset by injuries. Boyd, Turnbull and Teheran are on the injured list. Urena has been ineffective since a short stint on the injured list.
Yet, the Tigers have held their own, with Mize and Skubal have emerging as the team’s most reliable arms heading into the All-Star break. The Tigers entered Friday with wins in 11 of their past 17 games, with three games to go before the break.
FRIDAY’S GAME: Miggy back in the field at 1B, Baddoo in CF
THURSDAY’S LOSS: Tigers lack recent sharpness, and pay for it in 5-3 loss to Twins
“They’re growing at this level,” manager AJ Hinch said. “They’re learning at this level. It doesn’t surprise me. We needed it because of the timeline (due to injuries) but it doesn’t surprise me in the least bit. … I don’t know what’s possible. They could get even better.”
Mize has been on a reduced pitch limit the last two starts but he’ll ramp back up after the All-Star break. He hasn’t given up more than three runs in a start since April 23, a stretch of 13 starts. Before the pitch limit, he had lasted at least five innings in 11 straight starts.
Skubal leads all American League rookies with 105 strikeouts. After a rough first month, Skubal has only allowed more than three earned runs in one of his past 12 starts. He retired the first 13 Minnesota batters he faced on Thursday, though he took the loss after giving up five runs (three earned) in six-plus innings.
“If you could see them get their work in and their routines down, you’d be very optimistic about the future of this rotation,” Hinch said.
It’s anticipated that Skubal will have his innings tapered down for a stretch, much like Mize has this month. Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter met Friday to discuss plans for the rotation after the break, noting a “really difficult” stretch of 18 games in 17 days awaits the Tigers when they return.
Skubal isn’t sure what limitations he’ll be on.
“I haven’t had that conversation,” he said. “Earlier in the year, I kind of did a good job of limiting my own innings with how I was throwing. I don’t know how it’s going to play out in the second half of the season.”
Cabrera returns to first
Hinch recently indicated that he planned to limit Miguel Cabrera to designated hitter duties until the All-Star break due to occasional calf tightness.
Cabrera has looked healthy enough, though, that he returned to the field on Friday at first base. That comes after trying to advance – unsuccessfully – from first to second on a deep fly ball Thursday.
“I put it in pencil whenever he had the little calf issue, but the more I watch him move around, the more I know he’s ready to play first,” Hinch said.
Cabrera will get Saturday off.
Rogers shuts down running game
Jake Rogers is getting a reputation around the league, and it’s making opponents think twice about testing his arm.
In 32 games behind the plate, Rogers has caught seven of the 11 runners attempting to steal on him.
“Guys shut the running game down not with their throws, it’s with their potential to make throws,” Hinch said. “You change manager decisions when you have an elite throwing catcher back there.”
Rogers’ offense hasn’t caught up with his defense but he has improved at the plate. Rogers has 11 extra-base hits, including five home runs. He had a seven-game hit streak snapped on Thursday.
“Jake has a lot to work on offensively to be a more well-rounded hitter, but when you can produce and when you contribute, and you combine that with what he does behind the plate … I think he’s doing a hell of a job back there,” Hinch said.