Detroit Tigers’ Tarik Skubal flashes dominant slider in 7-1 win over Philadelphia Phillies

Detroit Free Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers topped the Philadelphia Phillies, 7-1, on Wednesday at BayCare Ballpark, improving to 5-5 (with two ties) in Grapefruit League play.

What happened

Making his third spring training start, left-hander Tarik Skubal gave the Tigers momentum with a spectacular performance. He turned in four scoreless innings on three hits, one walk and five strikeouts.

“He was excellent,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “I thought his intensity was in-season-like, and I thought he commanded. He has all spring, which is a good sign. They played most of their lineup, and I think he brought an edge today that was pretty good to see.”

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Skubal struck out Bryce Harper, the reigning National League MVP, on four pitches in the first inning, then he struck him out again on three pitches in the third inning. In the first, Harper was caught looking at a 95.6 mph fastball in the strike zone. In the third, he went down swinging on three consecutive sliders.

“It’s an MVP player coming off an MVP year,” Skubal said. “The adrenaline runs a little bit higher when you face those types of players. … To make those pitches to that type of hitter and get those results is always good.”

The Tigers backed Skubal with three runs in the second inning.

Phillies starter Kyle Gibson struck out the side in the first, but the Tigers wasted no time attacking him in the second. Jeimer Candelario opened with a double, and Jonathan Schoop scored him with a one-out single for a 1-0 lead.

Riley Greene kept the Tigers rolling with a single to center field. Torkelson followed with an RBI groundout (101.7 mph exit velocity). Tucker Barnhart, hitting ninth, put the Tigers ahead 3-0 with a two-run double.

Torkelson and Baez collided near the pitcher’s mound going for an infield pop up with two outs in the fourth inning. Baez made the catch on a ball that should have been his the entire time.

“I don’t want it to happen, but I didn’t panic,” Hinch said. “We want them to communicate. I heard Javy call it. I don’t think Tork did. Maybe he called it at the same time. Good that there was no harm.”

Both players stayed in the game and avoided injury.

“If Javy wasn’t so good at baseball, he should be a middle linebacker,” Torkelson said. “It was like hitting a brick wall. But yeah, we called it simultaneously.”

Starting out

The secret to Skubal’s success Wednesday, one of the better outings of his professional career, was his ability to throw strikes with his entire arsenal. Of his 66 pitches, 47 went for strikes.

“I ticked up my aggression, just from a mental standpoint,” Skubal said. “I tried to be a little bit more aggressive but still under control, and I felt pretty good today doing it.”

Along Harper’s two strikeouts, Skubal punched out Johan Camargo (looking, 84.3 mph changeup), J.T. Realmuto (swinging, 93.9 mph four-seam fastball) and Rhys Hoskins (swinging, 83.6 mph changeup).

His fastball, slider and changeup stood out.

In the third inning, Bryson Stott and Kyle Schwarber produced back-to-back singles with one out. Although Skubal had two runners on base, he didn’t appear overwhelmed. He threw five consecutive strikes, retiring the next two batters: Jean Segura (flyout to left field with fastball) and Harper (swinging strikeout with slider).

“I didn’t have a plan of wanting to throw sliders more than curveballs,” Skubal said. “It’s just, my slider was pretty good today, so I’m going to ride that. I’m trying to get outs. It’s a normal game. It’s not like I’m going to go work on some specific pitch. I’m working on things, but I’m also trying to get outs, and that’s why I threw a lot more sliders than curveballs. The slider was good.”

Skubal worked around a two-out single from Didi Gregorius in the fourth to conclude his outing.

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For his 66 pitches, Skubal used 31 four-seam fastballs (47%), 18 sliders (27%), 11 changeups (17%), four sinkers (6%) and two knuckle curveballs (3%). He recorded 11 swings and misses: three four-seamers, seven sliders and one changeup. He also logged 16 called strikes: eight four-seamers, four sliders and four changeups.

His fastball averaged 93.8 mph.

At the plate

The Tigers upped the lead to 4-0 in the third inning, as Javier Baez hit a double — his fourth of spring training — to plate Robbie Grossman. Baez recorded his hit on a first-pitch sinker from Gibson.

Three more runs scored in the fifth, thanks to RBIs from Miguel Cabrera (double), Derek Hill (single) and Torkelson (sacrifice fly). Torkelson finished 0-for-2 with two RBIs; Greene went 2-for-2.

Candelario and Hill also recorded two-hit performances.

Greene is hitting .412 (7-for-17) with two doubles, one triple, two home runs, 4 RBIs, three walks and five strikeouts in nine games. Torkelson is hitting .261 (6-for-23) with four doubles, three RBIs, one walk and four strikeouts in 10 games.

The Tigers logged seven runs on 13 hits and one walk.

On the mound

Taking over for Skubal, right-handed reliever Jose Cisnero entered for his second spring appearance. He pitched a scoreless fifth inning, allowing one walk with one strikeout. His fastball averaged 93.4 mph, though he maxed out at 94.7 mph.

The average velocity for all of Cisnero’s pitches were significantly lower than last season. The same was true for righty Michael Fulmer, who pitched the sixth inning. His fastball averaged 91.7 mph, maxing out at 92 mph.

On Fulmer’s first-pitch 92 mph fastball, Harper drilled a 365-foot home run to right field for the Phillies’ lone run. Fulmer tossed nine sliders, three four-seam fastballs, two curveballs and two sinkers.

“These are spring training outings that I’m not diving too heavy into,” Hinch said. “I want them to get their work in. Fulmer got ambushed, but I thought Cisnero’s stuff ticked up a bit. I actually think it’s the best breaking ball that Fulmer’s had so far.”

Left-hander Gregory Soto needed 13 pitches — nine sinkers, four sliders — for a scoreless seventh. He struck out Camargo (swinging, 89.6 mph slider) and Matt Vierling (looking, 89.2 mph slider).

Lefty reliever Andrew Chafin was scratched from his scheduled outing with groin tightness but is expected to pitch in the next couple days.

Three stars

1. Skubal, 2. Greene, 3. Barnhart.

NEext up

Thursday vs. Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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