‘He’s as good as it gets’: Tarik Skubal spins a gem in Tigers’ 5-0 win over Twins

Detroit News

Detroit – Needless to say, Tarik Skubal was not satisfied.

Seven brilliant, scoreless innings marred only by two softly-struck singles and a breezy 5-0 victory that secured a rare series win over the Central Division-leading Minnesota Twins — and there he was talking about how he needs to be better.

“I can improve from a consistency standpoint on each and every pitch,” he said. “I felt like I threw a lot of pitches not where I was trying to go and I got away with some. Just being able to execute each pitch consecutively will be better for me.”

We haven’t seen a starting pitcher dominate the way Skubal has this season in a long while. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Skubal is the third Tigers starter in the last 40 years to post a 2.15 ERA or lower in his first 10 starts.

The others: Justin Verlander (2.15 in 2012) and David Wells (1.83 in 1993).

After his seven innings Wednesday, he sat on the bench next to catcher Tucker Barnhart and pitching coach Chris Fetter and announced, “I’m going to be even better.”

Barnhart and Fetter both tried to check him on that.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 5, Twins 0

“Fetter and I both said, ‘It’s not about doing more and it’s not about getting better necessarily. It about creating more and more good habits and building on it,'” Barnhart said. “You see guys get in ruts and get into problems when they do well and then try to do more.

“It isn’t about doing more. It’s being consistent at doing what you do well.”

What Skubal did well against the Twins, a team that beat him up a month ago, was mix and command all five of his pitches expertly. The two singles were struck with exit velocities of 60 and 65 mph. He got 13 swings and misses and 19 called strikes.

“I think that’s all Tuck,” Skubal said. “He does such a good job back there reading the hitters and understanding what to throw. I just get the sign and do it. Honestly, I would imagine he’s having fun calling the game.”

That’s an understatement.

“I’m running out of good things to say about him,” Barnhart said, smiling. “He’s as good as it gets, in my opinion. After the first inning, when they made him work a little bit, it was like playing a video game for me. It’s pretty easy when it’s going like that.”

It seemed at times like Skubal was toying with hitters.

Rookie Jose Miranda got a taste of that. Skubal struck him out in the second inning throwing a late-biting knuckle curve after showing him a couple of sliders and a heater. The curve ball had to look like a whiffle ball to Miranda.

Next time Miranda came up, Skubal impishly started him off with the knuckle curve for strike one, as if to show him the last one wasn’t a fluke. He followed that up with a 94-mph fastball, a chase slider and then, maybe because he hadn’t thrown one in a while, a change-up that Miranda waved meekly at.

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He finished off an eight-pitch battle with Ryan Jeffers in the fifth with a 3-2 change-up, fearless and perfectly located.

The only time he was in any trouble was the first inning. He gave up a two-out flared single to Jorge Polanco and walked Gio Urshela. Left-handed hitting Trevor Larnach saw seven pitches. The first six were fastballs and sliders, 92 to 95 mph, and he worked the count full.

Skubal then reached back and fired a 97-mph heater right by Larnach.

It was a dominant performance. He ended up with six strikeouts. The 16 balls the Twins put in play against him had an average exit velocity of 84 mph. Not much hard contact.

“He knows how to pitch and he knows how to execute,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He was really good. We’re developing a really good pitcher here. His mentality is in a good place. His execution is in a good place. His production has been elite. It’s been fun to watch.”

Skubal, who threw 102 pitches in his previous start, was at 96 entering the seventh inning. There was no thought about taking him out.

“He earned the right to go back out there,” Hinch said. “He didn’t have to work terribly hard after the first inning and his usage was good. But that is only noticeable because of where the industry has gone with starting pitching.

“This is what a real guy does, to me.”

Skubal’s turn in the rotation is definitely becoming an event. The Tigers are 6-4 in his 10 starts.

They Tigers broke the game open with a four-run fifth inning off Twins starter Bailey Ober.

Jeimer Candelario started it with a ringing triple to the gap in right-center field. In the second inning, he took a very passive swing at an off-speed pitch and fouled out. Ober fed him another change-up in the fifth and Candelario hammered it.

Tucker Barnhart singled to score Candelario. With one out, Willi Castro singled and Harold Castro doubled in two runs. Jonathan Schoop followed with an RBI double.

With Robbie Grossman on the injured list and Javy Baez getting a rare night off, Willi Castro, Harold Castro and Schoop were the first three hitters in Hinch’s lineup. They produced six hits and all five runs.

Don’t look now but the Tigers have won six of eight and are 11-7 since May 12.

“We needed to start playing well a long time ago,” Hinch said. “But I think hopefully these last couple of weeks you’ve seen us taking a step forward in a couple different areas. We’ve had to pick up the pieces a little bit roster-wise.

“But from a functional standpoint on the field our defensive is better, we’re starting to move the ball forward a little bit offensively. We’re not perfect. So when we have a tough game like we did in Game 1 Tuesday, I like the resiliency we’re starting to show.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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