In Tarik Skubal’s past three starts, the 25-year-old has allowed 15 runs with seven walks and 14 strikeouts across 13⅔ innings. He began the season with a 2.33 ERA in 11 starts but has since stumbled.
The third inning made the difference for Skubal and the Detroit Tigers in Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox swept the three-game series at Fenway Park, as the Tigers dropped to 26-43 this season.
The Tigers, averaging 2.87 runs per game, are 17 games below .500.
“I don’t think three rough outings define you, just like I don’t think three good outings mean you’ve got it all figured out,” manager A.J. Hinch told reporters in Boston. “This is a tough league with some tough matchups.
“He won’t back down. He won’t lose confidence. He’s got to learn to make a few adjustments. He’s really hard on himself, but it’s the big leagues.”
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Skubal gave up six runs on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts across 4⅔ innings. The Red Sox scored four runs off him in the third inning, then two more in the fifth inning to chase him from his 14th start.
The four-run third started with Christian Vazquez’s double on a first-pitch fastball. Skubal walked the next batter, Bobby Dalbec, on three pitches, and Jaren Duran doubled to score Vazquez to tie the game at 2-2.
Rob Refsnyder put the Red Sox ahead 4-2 with a two-run home run, despite falling behind 0-2 in the count. He fouled off a third-pitch slider, and when Skubal responded with another slider, Refsnyder collected his first home run of the season, just over the red line atop the Green Monster in left field.
Skubal threw 29 pitches in the third inning and needed 59 pitches to record his first nine outs. He tossed clean first and second innings, with the only runner reaching on a Javier Báez throwing error in the first.
This season, Skubal has a 3.63 ERA.
“Execution is always going to be key,” Hinch said. “There’s been a walk in there a little more than usual and some big moments where he’s giving up a hit that’s cost him a couple runs.
“We’ll get back to it. He’ll pitch in San Francisco. He’s definitely good enough to make adjustments and get back in the win column.”
Little help from offense
The offense didn’t help Skubal, managing just two runs on five hits and three walks throughout the game. Red Sox right-hander Michael Wacha fired six innings of two-run ball, with five hits, two walks and seven strikeouts.
Detroit’s only runs came from Báez in the first inning.
“Clearly, you want to win the series,” Hinch said. “You at least want to salvage a win when you can. We jumped out ahead today but couldn’t finish the game in the positive. You never want to go into a series and not win a game.”
Rookie Riley Greene, hitting .375 in his first five MLB games, fouled off three pitches and took three balls to set up a seventh-pitch fastball in a full count. The lefty took advantage of that fastball, shooting the ball to the opposite field gap.
For Wednesday’s game, Hinch moved Greene, who finished with one hit in four at-bats, up to the No. 2 spot in the batting order for the first time in his career. The 21-year-old made his MLB debut Saturday.
Báez followed Greene’s single by boosting his hitting streak to seven games. He hammered a first-pitch fastball for a home run over the Green Monster, giving the Tigers a 2-0 advantage.
The ball traveled 376 feet and was hit with a 105.2 mph exit velocity.
In his past seven games, Báez is 11-for-27 (.407) with three doubles, one triple, three home runs, four RBIs, two walks and two strikeouts. He had a .189 batting average with three homers through 50 games to begin the season.
“His at-bats are very encouraging,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen him do a little bit of everything so far in his time here with us. When he is selective and goes after pitches that he can handle, he can do a lot of damage. It’s an encouraging sign to see him get warmed up.”
The Tigers, trailing by four runs, put runners on the corners — Báez (walk) and Miguel Cabrera (single) — to open the sixth inning against Wacha. Harold Castro and Robbie Grossman both struck out, and Spencer Torkelson lined out to strand the runners in Wacha’s final inning of work.
“His two-strike ability to slow the game down,” Hinch said of Wacha. “He threw a lot of two-strike changeups. That’s his calling card. It’s what he does. I thought he effectively used a cutter a couple times to set up fastballs and pound us in a little. … His ability to change speeds and change the pace is really important.”
Báez went 2-for-3 with a home run and a walk; Torkelson finished 0-for-4 and is batting .191 in 63 games this season.
The Red Sox forced Skubal off the mound in the fifth inning.
Refsnyder picked up his second and final hit with a one-out double. J.D. Martinez won a 10-pitch battle with Skubal.
The lengthy plate appearance led to a mound visit, but Skubal threw three straight balls to Xander Bogaerts, the next batter in Boston’s dangerous lineup. Skubal worked his way back to a full count and induced a groundout, advancing the runners to second and third.
With two outs, Alex Verdugo brought Hinch out of the dugout by putting a two-seam fastball into left field. The hit drove in Refsnyder and Martinez to make it 6-2 Red Sox.
Hinch replaced Skubal with Joe Jiménez.
“A little bit of everything happened at the end, where they got some really good hits,” Hinch said. “He didn’t control the left-handed hitters today. Both Duran and Verdugo stayed on pitches and hit extra-base hits when they needed it with runners on base. It’s as simple as that.”
Jiménez got Trevor Story to ground out to end the fifth inning. It was Skubal’s shortest outing since his first start of the season, April 10 against the Chicago White Sox. In that game, he completed four innings on 79 pitches.
Skubal used 99 pitches (66 strikes) in Wednesday’s loss: 26 sliders, 25 two-seam fastballs, 25 four-seam fastballs, 20 changeups and three curveballs. He has increased his changeup usage in each of his past four starts.
The Tigers received scoreless innings from three relievers: Jiménez for the final out in the fifth and all three outs in the sixth, Wily Peralta in the seventh and Jason Foley in the eighth.
Foley allowed a single to Story but struck out the next three batters. He sent down Vazquez (sinker, looking), Bobby Dalbac (sinker, looking) and Jeter Downs (slider, swinging).
He threw 11 of 16 pitches for strikes.
Downs finished 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in his MLB debut.