Tarik Skubal on point, Tigers ramp up intensity as Opening Day draws near

Detroit News

Clearwater, Fla. — Tarik Skubal wanted to keep throwing the heater.

It was the fourth inning of the Tigers’ 7-1 spring win over the Phillies Wednesday and Skubal was trying to put bow on a brilliant outing. He’d beaten Johan Camargo with four straight four-seam fastballs — 94-95 mph. Camargo, a veteran switch-hitter batting right-handed, was tardy, fouling three of them off.

With the count 0-2, catcher Tucker Barnhart called for a changeup. Skubal didn’t immediately understand the logic behind that.

“The fastballs were beating him and beating him and beating him,” Skubal said. “I wanted to throw another fastball way out of the zone. But he saw the last fastball was fouled off to the left. For that pitch to be hit like that, (Barnhart) said he thought Camargo was getting more on time.”

That’s the kind of wisdom a veteran Gold Glove-winning catcher can bring. Skubal threw back-to-back changeups out of the strike zone and then jammed Camargo with a 94-mph heater — infield pop-up.

“Just getting that insight from him,” Skubal said. “He’s got a perfect view of the bat path coming through the zone.”

That inning-ending pop-up was a bit of a heart-stopper, though, as the club’s top prospect Spencer Torkelson and $140 million shortstop Javy Baez dangerously converged. Torkelson, who was running full speed over the mound as the ball drifted across the diamond in the stiff breeze, slammed into Baez, who was mostly stationary waiting for the ball to come down.

Torkelson ended up on the ground.

“If Javy wasn’t so good at baseball, he should be a middle linebacker,” Torkelson said after. “It was like hitting a brick wall.”

All’s well that ends well. Baez caught the ball and Torkelson was OK.

“We’re all good,” Torkelson said, laughing. “Made sure Javy was all good before we made sure I was all good.”

Skubal, with one spring start left, was on point. Against a Phillies lineup that featured seven regulars, he struck out five and allowed just three singles, covering the four innings in 66 pitches. Of his 47 strikes, he got 11 swings and misses and 16 called strikes.

“He was excellent,” manager AJ Hinch said. “His changeup was really good, his fastball was really good, his intensity was in-season-like and he commanded his stuff as well as he has all spring. Good sign.”

Hinch didn’t mention the slider, which might have been his nastiest pitch. The Phillies took 10 swings at it and whiffed seven times. He finished the third inning getting three straight swings and misses with it from Bryce Harper.

“I said two outings ago I needed to get the slider back to where it needs to be and today it felt really good,” Skubal said.

It was the second time he punched out Harper in the game and he threw a mini-fist punch as he walked to the dugout.

“It’s an MVP player coming off an MVP year so obviously the adrenaline was running a little higher when you face that type of player,” Skubal said. “Plus I was kind of in a jam (two runners on) and I made three quality pitches to get out of it. That’s why the emotions went a little higher.

“To make those kinds of pitches to those kinds of hitters and get those results felt good.”

Skubal was freezing hitters with his fastball, too. He got eight called strikes with the four-seamer (93-96 mph). That, as Hinch said, is a tribute to the effectiveness of his slider and changeup.

“In his first at-bat, Harper was looking breaking ball and Tarik got him with a high-and-away fastball,” Hinch said. “It’s not just about the off-speed but it’s the threat of the off-speed that makes his fastball better.”

Skubal said he thought, conditioning-wise, he could have gone one or two more innings, which puts him on a good track, with one spring start left, to be full-go for his first regular-season start — April 10 against the White Sox at Comerica Park.

“I don’t feel (spring training) has been rushed at all,” he said. “I think I did a good job of preparing my body, even during the lockout, even in that weird period in February when it was like, ‘Ah, I don’t even know if we’re going to have a season anymore.’

“I felt like I was able to get a lot of quality work in there back in Arizona. You know, if they want to shorten spring training, sure. I’m going to be out here early regardless.”

Chafin scratched

Andrew Chafin, the Tigers’ $13 million lefty reliever, made the trip and was throwing in the outfield before the game, but he ended up being scratched.

“He has a tight groin,” Hinch said. “Once he said it, it was over for him. He watched the game. We’ll get him back in a day or two.”

It would have been Chafin’s third spring outing. Minor-league camper Nick Kuzia, who thought he would be pitching back in Lakeland against Southeastern University, had to make a quick change of uniform and hop on the team bus to Clearwater. He pitched a scoreless inning against the Phillies.

Hustle time

The Tigers, for maybe the first time this spring, showed some of the base running aggression that was their hallmark last season.

Jeimer Candelario started a four-run rally in the second with a hustle double. Jonathan Schoop went first to third on a shallow single to center. Robbie Grossman scored from first on a double to left field by Baez. Even Miguel Cabrera hustled and slid into second on a double to right-center.

“The off day (Tuesday) signaled it’s almost go time,” Hinch said. “The guys were fresh, lot of energy. This is a message they heard for an entire season last year. We’re getting closer to the season and the intensity was up.”

Hinch also sent a subtle message, bringing every position player on the road for this one.

“I think the guys responded quite well,” he said.

Around the horn

Derek Hill left the game in the middle of the Phillies’ last at-bat, cramping in the dense heat and humidity. He said afterward he was all good.

… Closer Gregory Soto hit 99 mph on the radar gun in a clean, two-strikeout, 13-pitch inning.

… Rookie Riley Greene is heating up. He had a single and double Wednesday, raising his spring average to .412 and his OPS to 1.5.


Twitter: @cmccosky

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