Detroit Tigers starter Tarik Skubal slowly walked to the dugout and into the clubhouse.
The rookie had just made the final out in the fifth inning, striking out Chad Pinder on three pitches. But one batter earlier, Mark Canha put the Oakland Athletics ahead by five runs with an opposite-field two-run homer to right.
It wasn’t a pleasant night for Skubal.
And the Tigers couldn’t recover from Skubal’s struggles in an 9-3 loss in Tuesday’s series opener at Comerica Park. They have dropped four games in a row and five of their past six, finishing 12-14 during August after three consecutive winning months in May (14-13), June (14-13) and July (14-12).
“I really wasn’t commanding my fastball that well,” Skubal said. “If you’re not commanding it and you’re missing middle, you just got to hope something else works. I don’t think I threw a curveball near the strike zone today. It was overall a frustrating outing for me. The way I competed, I’m just not proud of that.”
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The Tigers (62-71) trimmed their deficit to 6-3 in the bottom of the fifth, thanks to solo home runs from Dustin Garneau and Derek Hill. With two outs, Robbie Grossman singled and Miguel Cabrera walked to chase Athletics left-handed starter Cole Irvin. Oakland manager Bob Melvin turned to righty reliever Deolis Guerra, who fell behind 3-0 to Jeimer Candelario but got him to line out to first baseman Matt Olson to end the threat.
“A couple of the solo homers were nice,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We just didn’t do enough around those to get them into some trouble. We chased (Irvin) in the fifth and made them use some of their bullpen, but when they pulled away, it became less of their priority guys at the back end. They still have good middle relief. They came in and shut the door.”
Irvin tossed 84 pitches and allowed three runs on seven hits and two walks over 4⅔ innings.
In the fourth, the Tigers loaded the bases with one out against Irvin with Cabrera (walk), Candelario (single) and Eric Haase (single). Willi Castro chopped a slider down the third-base line, which typically would have generated a run. Third baseman Matt Chapman had other ideas, stepping on third base before making a perfect off-balance throw to Olson for an inning-ending double play.
“It was an elite play,” Hinch said. “It’s as good as you’re going to see. He positioned his body to where he can come across the bag, and he’s got a cannon. He’s a Gold Glove defender. It’s not just the double play. It’s the three-spot after that.
“Bases loaded, one out, we think we’re going to do something. Willi’s fighting off an at-bat and hits the ball in a position that maybe they get one out at third base. You didn’t think they were going to turn it. Maybe we get a run there.”
Relievers Kyle Funkhouser and Michael Fulmer pitched scoreless sixth and seventh innings, respectively, to keep the game within reach. As the Tigers’ bats went silent down the stretch, the Athletics added two runs in the eighth inning against Derek Holland for an 8-3 lead.
Ex-Tiger Josh Harrison delivered the two-run single and finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs. The top three batters in the A’s lineup — Harrison, Starling Marte and Olson — went 7-for-15 with three RBIs and three strikeouts.
Chapman’s solo home run in the ninth off Holland put the Athletics ahead 9-3.
“He’s an elite player,” Hinch said about Chapman. “The scoreboard doesn’t tell the whole picture. He prepares. You watch him in between pitches, you watch him prepare for every defensive play that he’s going to make. He’s got intensity. … It doesn’t matter if he’s hitting .220 or .320, 20 homers or 40 homers, he brings it every day.”
The Tigers pummeled three solo home runs for their only runs Tuesday, beginning with Robbie Grossman in the first inning. He smacked a curveball from Irvin over the left-field wall for his 20th home run of the season and a 1-0 lead.
Grossman’s previous career-high was 11 home runs in 2016 for the Minnesota Twins. He hit six in 2019 and eight in 2020 for the Athletics. From 2013-20, the 31-year-old averaged 11 home runs per 162 games.
The next two homers came from unlikely contributors: Garneau and Hill.
Garneau entered Monday with nine home runs over 146 games in his seven-year MLB career, but he left no doubt about his swing in the fifth inning. He sent Irvin’s four-seam fastball 408 feet to left-center field. It marked the 10th homer of his 147-game career and the first in his seven games this season.
“That always feels good, just to produce for the team,” Garneau said. “I’m more on the disappointed side for losing the game.”
Two batter later, Hill cranked his second home run in as many days.
He attacked a slider to cut the Tigers’ deficit to 6-3. This one traveled 391 feet to left field. He also homered in Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins and now has three home runs across 37 games this season. Hill belted just 27 home runs over 2,183 plate appearances in his minor-league career.
Along with a three-hit performance, Hill also shined with his defense and speed.
“He’s contributing,” Hinch said. “The pull homer in back-to-back games is something that, if he can add a little extra to his game, you’re going to see more and more impact. I love the way he plays. His energy level matches the performance.”
He caught Marte playing lazy in center field and turned a single into a double with two outs in the third inning. During Skubal’s sloppy fifth, he saved his fellow rookie from further damage with a leaping catch at the center-field wall for the second out — just before Canha’s blast made it 6-1.
Skubal sets mark
When Skubal struck out Chapman in the second inning, he passed Spencer Turnbull — who posted 146 strikeouts in 2019 — for the strikeouts among Tiger rookies. (Les Cain had 156 in 1970, but the Tigers don’t recognize him as the leader because the Elias Sports Bureau does not.)
Skubal’s final line wasn’t anything to boast about — six runs on seven hits and three walks over five innings — but he recorded six strikeouts to push his season total to 150.
“That’s cool, but I don’t play this game for records,” Skubal said. “I play this game to win. I didn’t do a good job of putting my team in a position to win, so that’s where I’m at mentally.”
The Athletics scored their first run against Skubal with back-to-back doubles from Marte and Olson in the third inning. Once Olson advanced to third base, Chapman drilled a two-out home run to left-center field for a 3-1 lead.
Skubal then allowed three more runs in the fifth.
He threw 61 of 97 pitches for strikes, generating 13 swings and misses with five sliders, four four-seam fastballs and four changeups.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.