Another rocky start for Tarik Skubal, Tigers drop series to Royals

Detroit News

Detroit — Losing a home series to the only team beneath you in the Central Division standings seems like a rough way to spend a holiday weekend. But, given how things have gone this season for the Tigers, it was fitting.

The Kansas City Royals rode a pair of second-inning home runs off starter Tarik Skubal to a 7-4 win over the Tigers in the series finale at Comerica Park Sunday.

BOX SCORE: Royals 7, Tigers 4

“When you have a chance to win a series and you come out and don’t execute, that’s the big issue,” manager AJ Hinch said. “We used some bullpen today and we have a doubleheader tomorrow, but we were just trying to win a series today.

“On broader scale, sure it’s tough. But I’m more upset we didn’t win a series against a team we have a good chance against, a team we matchup fine with. We didn’t do our job.”

There has to be a growing concern, too, about Skubal. It wasn’t that long ago he was being talked about as a candidate for the All-Star game. This was his fifth rocky start in a row, the second straight and third out of his last four that he didn’t get through five innings.

“I feel like I’m just kind of fighting myself,” said Skubal, who was charged with five runs in 4.2 innings. “I think that’s leading to the command and mechanical stuff. Sometimes you fight yourself and I feel like I’m doing that.”

After he pitched a clean and encouraging nine-pitch first inning, he looked like a different pitcher in the second. His velocity was down on both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs and he struggled to command it on the inside part of the plate to right-handed hitters.

Edward Olivares led off the second curling a 2-0 slider inside the foul pole in left field, his third homer of the season.

“Bad pitch, bad execution, bad result,” Hinch said.

Skubal then walked left-handed hitting Vinnie Pasquantino and with two outs got ahead of Emmanuel Rivera 1-2 with sliders and a changeup.

He threw a four-seam fastball at 92 mph, 2 mph less than Skubal’s average, that Rivera launched into the visitor’s bullpen in left-center.

Skubal got through the third and fourth innings unscathed but he was still falling behind hitters. His pitch count climbed over 80 pitches in the fifth. After a single and a walk, he gave up a two-out, RBI double to left-handed hitting Andrew Benintendi which ended his day.

“For me, it’s a mechanical thing that we’ve been talking about,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said when asked about Skubal. “The better he stays through his pitches the more consistent they are. To sync up your pitches, your timing has to be pretty impeccable.

“That’s the reality of the situation. It is virtually impossible to keep your timing exactly the same all season, regardless of what position you play — pitcher or hitter.”

Reliever Wily Peralta walked the first two hitters he faced, the last with the bases loaded, putting another run on Skubal’s ledger. Tigers pitchers walked in two runs Sunday.

“He got out of the gate pretty hot,” Hinch said. “Then there was a walk in there. That’s the common theme today. We walked eight, hit another, walked two runs in. Regardless if it’s Tarik or anybody else, it was not a good execution day.”

In Skubal’s last five starts, all losses, he’s been dinged for 23 earned runs and 30 hits in 23 innings. He’s walked 14 and stuck out 20 in those starts. In the 11 starts before that, he had 70 strikeouts and 10 walks in 65.2 innings, allowing 17 earned runs.

Stark contrast.

“I’m the same guy, just the results are different,” Skubal said. “I feel I’m close to figuring some things out. It’s just some things take time. That’s what I’m going through.”

Skubal was adamant that he had no physical issues.

“It’s frustrating because I’m not doing what I know I’m capable of doing,” he said. “It’s definitely frustrating but it’s part of the game. You continue to learn and try to get one percent better. I know the results might not show that I’m getting better, but I promise I’m working hard and I’m getting better.

“Eventually it will start to turn around.”

For the first four innings the Tigers’ hitters were being bullied by Royals’ right-hander Brady Singer. He struck out eight of the first 14 hitters he faced, including five out of six between the third and fourth innings.

But coming out after the long top half of the fifth, Singer lost his edge. After Jeimer Candelario led off with a single, Spencer Torkelson unloaded on a 3-2 sinker and put it into the seats in left. It was his fifth home run of the season and his first since May 18, a span of 129 homer-less plate appearances.

“Definitely felt good,” Torkelson said. “I figured he’d keep going to the sinker inside with a runner at first because I grounded into a double-play on it my previous at-bat. That was in the back of mind a little bit. Just trying to battle with two strikes and I got rewarded.”

Singer walked Kody Clemens and Harold Castro around a single by Victor Reyes and his day was done. Side-arming right-handed reliever Jose Cuas, who pitched in all three games of this series, was summoned to face Javier Báez with the bases loaded.

Báez hit a sinking liner to right field, but Whit Merrifield got a good break on it and made a sliding catch, saving two runs.

“We had plenty of chances to win this series, whether it was this one or the first game,” Hinch said, referencing the Tigers going 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position Friday.

Clemens, getting a start at second base, blasted his second home run of the season in the bottom of the seventh. He ambushed a first-pitch fastball (98.7 mph) from reliever Dylan Coleman and ran it over the fence in right field.

Barnhart followed with a double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Reyes. That made it a 6-4 game.

But Tigers’ pitchers kept walking batters and the Royals tacked on runs in the seventh and ninth.

It was an ugly outing for Tigers’ pitchers. A lot of balls. They walked eight (two with the bases loaded), hit a batter and gave up 11 hits. Five pitchers combined to throw 175 pitches.

The Tigers will start two rookies in the doubleheader Monday against Cleveland — Garrett Hill will make his big-league debut in the opener, and Alex Faedo will be called up from Toledo as the 27th man and start Game 2.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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