Tigers lefty Tarik Skubal searching for the right level of ‘controlled aggression’

Detroit News

Dunedin, Fla. — It wasn’t quite a Bull Durham moment where Tigers’ lefty Tarik Skubal was talking about breathing through his eye lids or anything, but you could almost hear faint echoes of Nuke Laloosh.

“I’ve been trying to be more under control and focused on my breathing when I’m on the mound,” Skubal said Friday after giving up a couple of runs in 2.2 innings in the Tigers’ 8-4 spring win over the Blue Jays. “It’s something I’ve really been working on lately.”

Pitchers often talk about regulating their breathing and calming their heart rate when they are on the mound. But on this day, Skubal thinks he might’ve taken it too far.

“Yeah, my one takeaway from this one was I need to pitch with a little more aggression and not as calm as I was today,” he said. “I want to be calm and collected, but maybe with a little more controlled aggression.”

To be clear, Skubal threw the ball well. He struck out four and got eight swings and misses and 10 called strikes. He commanded his fastball well and his change-up was probably his sharpest pitch. But he got dinged for a couple of runs in the first inning, giving up loud doubles to Bo Bichette and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.

But his four-seam fastball, his more fierce weapon, was sitting at 94 mph and not missing as many bats as it normally does. The Blue Jays swung at 16 of them and fouled off nine.

That’s why Skubal questioned his aggression level.

“It’s more about how I feel personally,” he said. “Like maybe if I’m pitching with a little more aggression, the fastball has more life on it and instead of a foul ball, they swing right underneath it. Just a little more controlled aggression.”

More: ‘Never stop learning:’ Tigers’ Báez still grinding on being a more disciplined hitter

It’s a delicate balance, for sure. Too much aggression and he speeds up his delivery and his mechanics can get out of sync. Too little aggression and he’s not beating hitters with his fastball.

“For Tarik, there’s a difference between under control and not under control,” manager AJ Hinch explained. “You can be as intense as you want to be, be as amped up as you want to be, but you have to stay under control. And that just means repeating his delivery.

“Don’t confuse calmness with a lack of intensity. That is not what we are looking for.”

When Skubal is at his best, Hinch said, he is under control and focused, but still with an attack mindset.

“Something else with Tarik,” Hinch said. “When he sprays the ball and he’s outside the zone, you think he’s out of control. Which is not necessarily the case. It’s just that he’s a young pitcher trying to harness himself.”

He threw 57 pitches in his 2.2 innings and has two more starts before breaking camp, as it stands now, as the No. 3 starter in the rotation behind Eduardo Rodriguez and Casey Mize.

Game bits

…Akil Baddoo led off the game with a bang. A legitimate, Statcast-breaking bang. The left-handed hitter hit an 0-2 cutter off lefty Hyun Jin Ryu out of TD Ballpark. It flew over the right-field wall and over the building behind it. Statcast had the exit velocity (106.9 mph) but not the distance reading on it. Hitting lefties is the next hurdle for Baddoo. “This is a good step in the right direction,” Hinch said. “He can be a real factor in an everyday lineup if he can handle himself against lefties.”

…Two right-handed pitchers continue to state loud cases for a place in the Tigers Opening Day bullpen. Rony Garcia, who struck out Matt Chapman on three pitches, got four outs, featuring a wicked curveball-change-up-slider combination. Jason Foley brought the power in his scoreless inning, striking out two with a four-seam fastball that hit 98 mph and a heavy sinker (96).

More: ‘He’s still going to get better’: Tigers’ Casey Mize showcases electric 4-seam fastball

…Infielder Isaac Paredes showed some power, too, the kind the Tigers have been waiting to see. He lined at 97-mph fastball from right-hander Julian Merryweather over the fence in left. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 106.3 mph. “He’s one of our better at-bat managers,” Hinch said. “He knows a ball from a strike. That pull-side power was good to see.”

…Utility man Jack Lopez is showing some power, too. He hit a 405-foot homer at Joker Marchant Stadium on Thursday. Friday, he lined a double off the left-center field wall.

… Outfielder Jacob Robson, who grew up in Windsor, put a little hurt on his countrymen. He ripped an RBI single to finish the scoring.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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