Spencer Torkelson’s 2-run blast gives Detroit Tigers a 2-1 win over Kansas City Royals

Detroit Free Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Detroit Tigers rookie Spencer Torkelson looked to the dugout.

“Come on, baby!” he shouted.

The 22-year-old had just crushed a second-pitch sinker from Kansas City Royals starter Brad Keller for a two-run home run to left in the seventh inning. He celebrated at home plate with 38-year-old Miguel Cabrera, fresh off the 599th double and 2,995th hit of his career.

“That was awesome,” Torkelson said. “Really special moment. That inning doesn’t happen without his double.”

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The combination of left-hander Tarik Skubal’s outing, Cabrera’s 599th double and Torkelson’s two-out 432-foot big fly unlocked a 2-1 win for the Tigers on Friday night in the second of four games at Kauffman Stadium.

“It’s a big, emotional hit,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “We play so many close games against these guys. A big swing like that put a jolt in the dugout, and I love it when players show emotion, especially Tork. He’s been carrying a lot of stress over the last 10 days trying to get himself up and running. A great way to stamp his arrival.”

The Tigers (4-4) trailed until the seventh, when Torkelson launched his second MLB home run.

“I want to see as many homers out of Tork as possible,” Skubal said. “That was a big fly, big bomb, and obviously, that wins us the game there. … He knows he belongs, and everyone in this clubhouse feels like he belongs, too. He can prove that and go way back whenever.”

Skubal, meanwhile, accomplished everything he was supposed to in his second start of the season, a much-needed bounce-back performance after being roughed up by the Chicago White Sox in his first outing.

He fired 16 first-pitch strikes to the 22 hitters he faced, posted a 72.2% strike rate, mixed his pitches masterfully, produced seven strikeouts and exited the game in the sixth inning with zero earned runs.

“Super aggressive,” Hinch said. “He came in and established himself in the strike zone, which got them into swing mode, and then he’s got the nasty slider, threw a couple good changeups, velo was there.”

The Tigers couldn’t reward Skubal with a win for his strong outing because of Keller, who nearly posted seven scoreless innings and was untouchable for most of the evening. Keller finished with seven frames of two-run ball on three hits, two walks and five strikeouts.

Had it not been for Torkelson’s homer, the Tigers would have been blanked. Skubal conceded one run in the fourth inning, though it was an unearned run because of shortstop Harold Castro’s error.

“We made the one mistake which felt like it was going to hurt us,” Hinch said. “Luckily, we overcame that.”

Maintaining a 2-1 lead, right-handed relievers Joe Jimenez and Michael Fulmer pitched scoreless eighth and ninth innings. Fulmer logged his first save of the season, after earning 14 of them last year.

Skubal diving

Skubal cruised through the first 11 batters he faced, sending them down in order. He got ahead 0-2 against Salvador Perez with two outs in the fourth, but the at-bat resulted in a single.

“I felt a lot more synched up,” Skubal said. “I felt like last outing, my legs weren’t matching my upper body. I was pretty sore the next day, and that’s abnormal for me. My upper body was more sore than usual.

“That just means something isn’t connected and my upper body is overcompensated. I just felt more synched up. It felt pretty good today.”

Perez hit a 1-2 slider for a grounder into left field, as the ball deflected off Castro’s glove. On the next play, Andrew Benintendi reached safely on a fielding error by Castro, putting two runners on.

Then, Carlos Santana singled on a line drive to right field, putting the Royals ahead 1-0.

Before the fourth, Skubal had tallied six strikeouts in his first three innings.

The 25-year-old worked around a two-out single from Nicky Lopez in the fifth and returned for the sixth. He retired Bobby Witt Jr., allowed a double to Perez and got Benintendi to ground out.

Hinch removed Skubal from his start with Santana, a switch-hitter, due up and Perez on third base. Santana hits better against lefties than righties, so Hinch replaced Skubal with righty reliever Jacob Barnes.

Barnes ended the inning with two pitches.

“Whenever the name is called, you want to do your job,” said Barnes, who threw 1⅓ scoreless innings. “But when it’s a leverage spot, it’s much better. It always makes you feel good when you’re done with it and you did your job.”

For Skubal’s 90 pitches (65 strikes), he used 35 sliders (39%), 20 four-seam fastballs (22%), 19 sinkers (21%), nine curveballs (10%) and seven changeups (8%). He racked up 12 swings and misses: six sliders, one four-seamer, three curves and two changeups.

He also had 15 called strikes, including nine sliders.

“It generated a lot of positive things,” Skubal said of his slider. “I feel like I stole a lot of first-pitch strikes with it.”

His slider averaged 88.8 mph, 2.3 mph faster than last season’s average. Skubal rarely threw his slider in his first outing, turning to the offering for six of his 79 pitches against the White Sox. Skubal also turned up the heat — by 4 mph — on his curve, which averaged 77.8 mph.

“I was able to throw it in the dirt when I needed to, to generate a swing and miss,” Skubal said of his curve. “And I was able to land it in the strike zone when I needed to. So, it was good.”

His fastball averaged 95.1 mph, maxing out at 97.3 mph.

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

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