Detroit Tigers stumped once again by Cleveland in 6-1 loss as Tarik Skubal leaves early

Detroit Free Press

CLEVELAND — Aaron Civale owns the Detroit Tigers.

The Cleveland Guardians’ right-hander entered Friday’s series opener with a 9.85 ERA in six starts this season, but he also showed up with a 2.19 ERA in seven starts against the Tigers over his four-year MLB career.

This time, Civale dominated an already-struggling batting order, pitching into the seventh inning and allowing one run. The Tigers lost, 6-1, in the first of three games at Progressive Field.

Detroit dropped to 13-26, worst in the American League.

“We’re facing a really good team, and it’s tough,” said bench coach George Lombard, filling in as manager for A.J. Hinch (non-COVID illness). “We had guys out here early hitting today. We tried our damnedest to punch back, to fight back.”

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Tigers starter Tarik Skubal departed after the fifth inning with a left leg contusion. The left-hander limped off the field after getting hit in the shin and knocked to the ground by a comebacker from Ernie Clement. The ball had a 100.4 mph exit velocity.

“I’m going to take it day-by-day and see how I wake up tomorrow,” Skubal said. “I’m very optimistic. With what happened and where I got hit, I feel pretty good. I’m going to do everything I can to prepare to start in five days.”

Right-handed reliever Jacob Barnes replaced Skubal for the sixth.

At that point, neither team had scored.

Within five pitches, the Guardians tallied four runs for a 4-0 lead. The first four batters reached safely, with slugger Jose Ramirez launching a three-run home run to right field.

“Barnes has been good for us all year,” Lombard said. “Unfortunately, the damage came quick.”

Meanwhile, Civale kept working on the mound. He allowed just three hits and one walk with three strikeouts. His 6⅓ innings of one-run ball lowered his season ERA to 7.84 and his career ERA against the Tigers to 2.10.

“He was throwing a lot of cutters,” third baseman Jeimer Candelario said. “He wasn’t making a lot of mistakes. We missed a couple pitches that we’re supposed to drive, but it’s part of the game.”

Civale exited due to a left glute cramp with one out in the seventh inning, leaving runners on the corners for righty reliever Enyel De Los Santos. Spencer Torkelson hit a second-pitch slider for a sacrifice fly, putting the Tigers on the scoreboard.

But Detroit’s one run wasn’t nearly enough.

“He competes out there,” Lombard said. “He does a really good job competing. He changes speeds on you, works the ball in, works the ball out. The minute you start cheating for that cutter, he spins something soft off of that.”

Skubal diving

For the past 19 innings, Skubal has blanked his opponents.

He lowered his ERA to 2.22 across eight starts this season, tossing five scoreless innings on four hits in Friday’s loss. He did not concede a walk and racked up five strikeouts.

Skubal fired 49 of 66 pitches for strikes.

“He was really cruising,” Lombard said. “He really looked dominant.”

The 25-year-old needed one more scoreless inning to notch the longest scoreless innings streak in MLB this season, though — barring his injury forcing him to the injured list — he will have an opportunity to accomplish the feat in his next start.

The longest scoreless streak by a Tigers starter since 2015, by the way: Michael Fulmer with 34 innings in 2016.

“He was so good,” Candelario said of Skubal. “He’s pitching so well. He’s a guy that works hard, and having that (injury) happen to him is tough, but I know he’s going to recover fast.”

The Guardians’ four hits against Skubal were scattered: two in the first inning, one in the third and one in the fifth. Cleveland’s best chance to score came in the first, as Ramirez tripled to center field.

Center fielder Derek Hill misplayed what should have been an easy catch on the line drive from Ramirez, and the ball traveled over Hill’s head and rolled to the wall, giving Ramirez a no-doubt triple.

On the next pitch, Skubal ended the first by inducing a groundout.

“I felt like I was attacking guys and creating contact where I wanted it,” Skubal said. “I felt like I was in control, and I felt really good pitch-by-pitch. My arm felt great, too. I felt like the ball was really coming out, as opposed to my last outing. I hadn’t really emptied the tank.”

For his 66 pitches, Skubal used 22 sliders (33%), 21 four-seam fastballs (32%), 11 sinkers (17%), seven changeups (11%) and five curveballs (8%). He had five swings and misses, to go with an impressive 16 called strikes: three sliders, seven four-seamers, five sinkers and one changeup. 

His slider averaged 90.9 mph, up from his 88.7 mph season average.

“I was commanding my pitches pretty well,” Skubal said. “I didn’t really have great feel for my curveball. My changeup was pretty good today. Slider back-door, I was moving my slider around pretty well. My fastball command, especially to my arm side and down, was pretty good.”

More runs vs. Tigers

The Guardians crushed Barnes for four runs in the sixth inning, and the Tigers turned to right-handed reliever Jason Foley for the seventh. He pitched a scoreless seventh but crumbled upon facing the top of Cleveland’s lineup in the eighth.

Myles Straw and Ahmed Rosario produced back-to-back doubles, putting the Guardians ahead 5-1.

Righty Drew Carlton replaced Foley, after Ramirez grounded out, with one out in the eighth. Owen Miller delivered a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Rosario from third base to make it 6-1.

“We got to find a way to win tomorrow’s game,” Lombard said.

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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