Pittsburgh, Pa. — In all the confusion before the game — the rain delay, he’s starting, he’s not starting, wait, he is starting — there was one thing Tarik Skubal was somewhat concerned about.
“It’s just a delay,” he said. “You just try to stay out of the kitchen and don’t eat too much. You don’t want to throw up on the mound.”
The delay ended up being two hours and five minutes long and despite everything that went on, Skubal pitched seven full innings for the third straight time, putting the Tigers in position to take a 5-3 win from the Pirates at PNC Park Tuesday night.
“It was interesting,” said Skubal, who struck out nine and walked nobody. “It went from, ‘Hey, you’re going to start tomorrow,’ so I went out and played catch. When I came back in and there was the delay, it was, ‘You’re going to start.’
“I was like, OK, let’s do it.”
A fickle line of storms cut through the area Tuesday night. The teams were told the rain would come between 7:30 and 8 p.m. So, the initial plan was to start the game on time, at 7:10 p.m., and go until the rain hit.
“I talked to (Pirates manager) Derek Shelton and he said it was a go and they were really being pushed to play the game on time,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “But every radar we were looking at was a mess. They said the rain might come at like 7:40, 7:45, 8 p.m., but I didn’t see it.”
Hinch, at the point, decided to pull Skubal. No sense in burning his No. 1 starter for maybe three innings. Instead he tabbed ever-ready Wily Peralta to make the start, pushing Skubal to Wednesday.
Just a few minutes later it was announced the game would be delayed from the start, completely nullifying Hinch’s reason for pulling Skubal.
“Once we got into a full delay, then I knew we wouldn’t start until there was a full window and that’s when we went back to Tarik,” Hinch said. “I feel for him because that was a bad way to start the day. But I wasn’t going to use him for two innings for nothing.”
Besides wreaking absolute havoc with betting lines across the country, it ended up no harm, no foul.
“My goal is to go nine innings every single game,” said Skubal, who got 19 swings and misses, nine with his change-up on 10 swings, and 13 called strikes. “You go seven and you want to push the threshold to eight and then nine. I’m trying to give my team everything I can to put us in position to win a ballgame.
“I was able to do that tonight.”
His only real mistake was a mislocated slider to left-handed hitter Cal Mitchell with a runner on and two outs in the fourth. Mitchell deposited it 405 feet deep into the right-field seats.
“It’s not like my slider was bad, I just had trouble getting it to the glove side, especially against left-handed hitters,” Skubal said. “That’s something I need to get better at. The home run was a slider that needed to be way better executed.
“But my change-up was good and I made the adjustment and went to the curveball, which I thought was really good tonight.”
Mitchell’s homer was the third allowed by Skubal this season and the first to a left-handed hitter. In fact, it was just the second home run by a lefty against Skubal in 244 innings. Seattle’s Kyle Seager had the other one.
“We’ve had a rough start to this season, but every time Tarik pitches there is a different feel in the clubhouse,” Hinch said. “This is the signature of a guy that’s turned into a real pitcher.”
The Tigers must’ve kept the bats warm and dry during the delay because they came out hitting rockets.
Javier Báez, who had hits in his first two at-bats, smoked a double into the corner in left in the second inning, the ball leaving his bat with an exit velocity of 112 mph. Statcast registered that as the hardest-hit ball by a Tiger hitter this season.
Jonathan Schoop drove an RBI double 360 feet into the gap in left-center in the third inning. Those were just the appetizers.
In a three-run fourth, Báez lined a single with an exit velocity of 96 mph. Spencer Torkelson followed hitting a 402-foot line drive, exit velocity of 109 mph, that was still sizzling when it hit the top of the wall in center — RBI double.
Daz Cameron singled to right field (105 mph) and Tucker Barnhart, who had a pair of hits and an RBI, walked. Shelton let starter Jose Quintana face one more hitter, left-handed hitting Harold Castro.
Castro lined a two-run single to center, with an exit velocity of 103 mph.
The 4-1 lead seemed pretty secure with Skubal and his 2.15 ERA on the mound. Even on a crazy night like this.