What Detroit Tigers’ Tarik Skubal credits for his success in past two starts

Detroit Free Press

Tarik Skubal handled Miguel Cabrera’s moment with class.

The left-hander pitched six scoreless innings for the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader, a 13-0 win over the Colorado Rockies at Comerica Park. Usually, he would have received all the attention.

In the first inning, Cabrera hit a single to become the 33rd player in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits and the seventh player with at least 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. The whole game — the whole day, for that matter — was about Cabrera’s milestone.

“As it should,” Skubal said.

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Skubal didn’t talk too much about his performance after Game 1. The 25-year-old just finished celebrating Cabrera’s 3,000th with his teammates in the clubhouse. He deflected many questions about his performance onto Cabrera’s greatness. After all, what Skubal accomplished in one start doesn’t compare to Cabrera’s lifetime achievement.

But Skubal turned in another dominant start.

“We joked with him that no one even remembers that he pitched,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said, “and he was phenomenal. The difficulty pitching in a game like today, and the emotions that came with it, Tarik was in complete control of the game. He won the biggest at-bat of the game with the bases loaded.”

After Game 2, Skubal shared insight into his third outing this season. He allowed five hits, without conceding a walk, and registered six strikeouts in his six scoreless frames. He retired Kris Bryant and C.J. Cron to escape a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth inning.

“Getting ahead is huge,” Tigers catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “It’s huge for any starter or any pitcher in general. It’s the stuff that he has with the overall ability that he has. When you get ahead with the stuff that he has, it makes it really difficult on the hitter.”

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In his first start, Skubal gave up five runs (four earned) April 10 against the Chicago White Sox. He conceded seven hits and one walk with three strikeouts in four innings.

Skubal nearly abandoned his slider, throwing 47% four-seam fastballs, 28% changeups, 9% curveballs, 9% sinkers and 8% sliders. Facing the power-hitting White Sox, he thought a heavy fastball-changeup approach would befuddle their hitters.

It didn’t work.

“For some reason, I didn’t like the slider that day,” Skubal said. “I wanted to throw a lot of changeups, just being a right-handed dominant lineup. I just got to trust my stuff and know that (the slider is) a good pitch for me. It doesn’t matter who’s in the box. That’s kind of the shift in that.”

In his second start, Skubal did not allow an earned run over 5⅔ innings and had seven strikeouts April 15 against the Kansas City Royals. The Tigers won, 2-1, as Skubal used 39% sliders, 22% fastballs, 21% sinkers, 10% curveballs and 8% changeups.

He threw more fastballs (35%) than sliders (23%) in Saturday’s start, maintaining his willingness to stick with his slider and mix in changeups against right-handed hitters. He added 22% sinkers, 13% changeups and 7% curveballs.

“His changeup has been developing,” Barnhart said. “It’s given him another option to use against a right-handed hitter. He pitches to his glove side so well with his fastball and his breaking balls.

“Being able to have something that goes to his arm side that ends up being slower than the heater or the slider is definitely something that’s really helped him out so far.”

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Skubal fired 63.3% strikes in his first start, 72.2% strikes in his second start and 65.9% strikes in his third start. His strike-throwing is one benefit of his growing confidence.

He has a 2.30 ERA with one walk and 16 strikeouts in 15⅔ innings this season and hasn’t allowed an earned run in his past two starts.

“The slider usage has been huge for me,” Skubal said, “just being able to throw that pitch in hitters counts or when I’m behind in the count when generally I would throw fastballs. That pitch has been big.

“My pitch execution and ability to throw strikes and get ahead of guys has been way better than in the first one. I think that’s the difference.”

Fans pack the park

For Cabrera’s day, the Tigers hosted a combined attendance of 66,201 fans for Games 1 and 2 of the doubleheader. It marked the largest single-day crowd at Comerica Park since a July 19, 2014, doubleheader.

There were 37,566 fans for Game 1, the largest non-Opening Day crowd since July 15, 2017.

“When I first got here to Detroit, I remember we always had 35,000, 40,000 people every night,” Cabrera said. “To see the fans come back to the stadium like that, it was very emotional.”

[ ‘Win this division’: Miguel Cabrera sets grand Tigers goals in wake of 3,000th hit ]

Then, 28,635 fans showed up for Game 2.

The Tigers won the first game, 13-0, and lost the second game, 3-2, to split the doubleheader with the Rockies. They fell apart in Sunday’s series finale, 6-2, and have dropped four of five series this season.

“That was great,” Tigers utility player Harold Castro said. “The support that they gave us today in the first game, that helped us a lot to win the game. It was completely different. We like to play with a crowd like that. I hope they keep coming like they did today.”

The Tigers averaged 39,538 fans per game in 2008, the eighth-most in MLB that season. For many years, the winning product consistently put fans in the seats: about 32,600 fans per game in 2011, 37,300 fans in 2012, 38,000 fans in 2013 and 36,000 fans in 2014.

Comerica Park averaged 18,767 fans per game in 2019, the last season without capacity restrictions at Comerica Park for the entire schedule. So far this year, the Tigers have a 21,282 average over 12 home games.

“Especially with this group of young guys, they need to get used to that just in case we make it to the playoffs,” said Tigers shortstop Javier Báez, a 2016 World Series champion for the Chicago Cubs. “They can get used to that sound, that crowd.”

Something extra

Right-hander Beau Brieske, who made his MLB debut in Game 2 of Saturday’s doubleheader, will pitch this weekend against the Los Angeles Dodgers. For now, the Tigers plan to keep the 24-year-old in the starting rotation. He allowed three runs over five innings on three hits and two walks with three strikeouts in his first start. The three runs scored on a pair of home runs.

“This has been a goal of mine, a dream of mine,” Brieske said. “Each day, when it felt really far away for me, it was knowing that it’s possible: I can do it, I can do it. That kept motivating me and driving me to get up every day and strive for greatness.”

Brieske, a 27th-round draft pick in 2019, was the organization’s minor-league pitcher of the year last season, rising from High-A West Michigan to Double-A Erie. He started the 2022 season with Triple-A Toledo.

“Now that I’m here, it’s not a satisfied feeling for me,” he said.

• Down on the farm system, the Tigers promoted outfielder Parker Meadows — former second-round pick and brother of Detroit left fielder Austin Meadows — from West Michigan to Erie. He hit .230 with four doubles, one triple, four home runs, seven RBIs, four walks and 18 strikeouts in 14 games for the Whitecaps. “I think the main goal for me is just to get out of West Michigan,” Meadows said this past March in minor-league minicamp. “I’ve been stuck there for the past two years. I’ll just work twice as hard to get out of there.”

He won High-A Midwest League Player of the Week on April 18. The Tigers drafted Meadows with the No. 44 overall pick in 2018. He is the team’s No. 19 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Brieske, by the way, ranks No. 22 on the list.

• Right-hander Jackson Jobe, the No. 3 overall pick in 2021, made the second start of his professional career Saturday for Low-A Lakeland. The 19-year-old pitched two scoreless innings with four strikeouts. A second-inning leadoff single was his lone blemish. Jobe tossed 18 of his 23 pitches for strikes and used six four-seam fastballs, six sliders, six sinkers and five changeups. His fastball averaged 95.7 mph. He is considered the Tigers’ third-best prospect, following first baseman Spencer Torkelson and outfielder Riley Greene.

“That dude, he’s going to be really good,” said outfielder Derek Hill, who recently joined the Tigers after completing a rehab assignment. “He’s got some electric stuff. We got another arm. I mean, that’s what we do. He’s impressive.”

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

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