Detroit Tigers pitcher Tarik Skubal paused for a moment when talking about his most recent outing against the Boston Red Sox last Wednesday.
He was asked if he could isolate anything that led to his six earned runs allowed in 4⅔ innings on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts.
“I don’t know the answer to that question,” he said.
Skubal hasn’t had the answers of late on the mound, either.
One of the top pitchers in all of baseball in May, Skubal has come crashing down his past three outings.
In those starts, he has surrendered 15 earned runs in just 13⅔ innings, while allowing 21 hits, with seven walks and 14 strikeouts. During that time, his ERA has ballooned from 2.33 to 3.63 as he has picked up three consecutive losses.
“I mean, I can be as frustrated as I want, but it doesn’t matter,” he said last week when asked about just how tough this stretch has been. “What I’m doing on the field is what matters. I’m not doing my job and that’s the most frustrating part.”
Part of what’s gone wrong is he’s once again giving up the long ball. He allowed 35 homers in 149⅓ innings in 2021 — the second most ever allowed in a rookie season.
It appeared to be cleaned in up through early June, not allowing a ball to leave the park in nine of his first 10 games and allowing just two total in 58⅔ innings. But he has allowed one home run in each of his past four starts.
Then there’s the free passes. After allowing just 10 walks through 11 starts, Skubal has given up seven in his past three starts.
“Execution is always going to be key,” Hinch said about Skubal’s recent missteps after his latest outing. “And there’s been a walk in there more than usual and obviously some big moments where he’s given up a hit that costs him a couple runs.”
Perhaps the most significant problem lately is Skubal’s inability to make the key pitch in high leverage situations. When a runner is in scoring position, his WHIP this season is 1.57. When there are two outs, it is 1.29.
That’s compared to nobody on base (1.08 WHIP), a runner on first base (0.91 WHIP), no outs (1.16 WHIP) or one out (1.00 WHIP).
“I’m going to go watch film, what I did do well, didn’t do well and just kind of go from there and apply that into my daily work,” he said about his push to make adjustments.
These struggles are recent and neither Skubal nor Hinch say they are worried about the long term. Skubal had allowed just eight earned runs in 45 innings across seven games before this most recent stretch and the Tigers were 7-4 in his first 11 starts.
And his advanced metrics are good. According to Baseball Savant, his expected ERA (73rd percentile), strikeout rate (74th percentile), barrel rate (72nd percentile), chase rate (71st percentile) and walk rate (85th percentile) are all in the top tier of the league.
Despite his hard hit rate (33rd percent) being closer to the bottom, that wasn’t the case in his last outing when the average exit velocity of the 15 balls put in play was just 85 mph and just three hit harder than 100 mph.
“It is frustrating, but it’s part of then game, so what did you do?” he said. “You can’t do anything about it as a pitcher so you just continue to work hard, get better each and every day, learn from this and go from there.”
On Tuesday, he’s set to face the Giants where there will be two tests. One, against their offense, which is tied for sixth in runs scored, eighth in on-base percentage and 10th in slugging percentage.
And two, squaring off against one of the best lefties in the game in Carlos Rodón, who has a 2.70 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and is sixth in baseball with 101 strikeouts in 80 innings.
For the Tigers, who are 7-7 when Skubal pitches and 21-37 when he doesn’t, there’s no choice but for him to round into form if they’re going to make any sort of push.
“We will get back to it,” Hinch said. “He’s definitely good enough to make adjustments and get back to the win column.
Contact Tony Garcia at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.