Tarik Skubal struggles again as Detroit Tigers drop series finale to K.C. Royals, 7-4

Detroit Free Press

Less than 24 hours after a pair of big swings, the Detroit Tigers failed to capitalize on a bases-loaded opportunity in the fifth inning and walked too many batters in Sunday’s game.

The Tigers walked off the Kansas City Royals on Saturday, thanks to back-to-back ninth-inning home runs from Victor Reyes and Riley Greene. There were no ninth-inning heroics Sunday, however, as the Tigers lost, 7-4, in the series finale at Comerica Park.

“When you have a chance to beat a team in a series and you come out and don’t execute, that’s the biggest issue,” manager A.J. Hinch said, when asked about his bullpen usage. “We were just trying to win the series today.

“When you’re in the middle of the competition, I’m more upset that we didn’t win the series against a team that we have a good chance against and match up fine with. We didn’t do our job.”

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Left-hander Tarik Skubal allowed five of K.C.’s seven runs. He finished one out shy of completing five innings for the third start in a row. In total, Tigers pitchers allowed 11 hits and eight walks.

“I feel like I’m fighting myself a little bit,” Skubal said. “The command and mechanics, sometimes you just fight yourself, and I feel like I’m doing that right now. I’ve just got to be better at not doing that.”

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After the Tigers (30-47) picked up two runs in the fifth inning and chased Royals starter Brady Singer, right-handed reliever Jose Cuas entered to face Javier Báez with the bases loaded and two outs.

Báez lined out to right field as Whit Merrifield made a sliding catch.

“We had a lot of chances, not just the Javy at-bat,” Hinch said. “We were fortunate to get out of some messes. We could’ve been down by a lot. But we did hang in there a little bit and had some big at-bats, but we weren’t perfect.”

The Tigers scored their third and fourth runs in the bottom of the seventh inning against righty Dylan Coleman.

Kody Clemens blasted a solo home run on a first-pitch fastball, and Tucker Barnhart doubled, advanced to third on a Greene groundout, then scored on a sacrifice fly from Reyes. 

The home run from Clemens departed with a 105.1 mph exit velocity, so he watched his second career homer fly while taking his time getting out of the batter’s box.

The Royals scored in the seventh, too.

Right-handed reliever Jason Foley walked Michael A. Taylor with two outs and the bases loaded, giving the Royals a 6-2 lead in the top of the seventh. Righty Will Vest replaced him and struck out Emmanuel Rivera on seven pitches to avoid further damage.

Right-hander Michael Fulmer allowed one run in the ninth.

Singer sews ’em up

Singer dominated the Tigers through four innings before running into trouble in the fifth. He struck out the side in the fourth — Harold Castro, Báez and Willi Castro — and seemed on track to pitch deep into the game.

At least until the Tigers forced Singer to throw 37 pitches in his final inning.

“We waited him out a little bit as the game went along and put a ton of pressure on him in the fifth and got him out of the game,” Hinch said, “but our early game at-bats, he was in complete control.”

Spencer Torkelson received an inside fastball in a full count against Singer in the fifth. He attacked it, driving the ball 376 feet and over the left-center wall for a two-run home run, scoring Jeimer Candelario.

Still, the Tigers trailed 5-2.

The blast was Torkelson’s fifth of his career, and his first since May 18 against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field — a span of 129 plate appearances between homers.

“I figured he would keep going to that sinker inside because there was a runner on first and I grounded into a double play on it in the at-bat before,” Torkelson said. “I had that in the back of my mind. But I was just trying to battle with two strikes and got rewarded.”

After Torkelson’s home run, Clemens worked a seven-pitch walk. Singer, despite consecutive outs, gave up a single to Reyes and walked Harold Castro on eight pitches.

The Castro walk ended Singer’s outing. He allowed two runs on six hits and three walks with nine strikeouts in 4⅔ innings, throwing 97 pitches.

Opposing Singer, Skubal wasn’t as sharp.

Entering Sunday, Skubal had given up 18 runs across 18⅓ innings in his past four starts. The 25-year-old allowed five runs to the Royals on five hits and three walks with one strikeout in 4⅔ innings.

Skubal has a 9.00 ERA — 23 runs over 23 innings — in his past five starts. He had a 2.33 ERA in his first 11 starts.

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

Crown jewels shine early

The Royals scored three runs off Skubal in the second inning.

Edward Olivares started the frame with a solo home run to left on a slider near the top of the strike zone.

The next batter, Vinnie Pasquantino, drew a seven-pitch walk. He scored on a one-out, two-run homer from Emmanuel Rivera, who crushed a two-strike 92 mph four-seam fastball to left-center.

Just like that, the Royals were up 3-0.

“I don’t really care,” Skubal said. “I don’t really care about the home runs. Honestly, I care about putting my team in a position to win, and I didn’t do that.”

Skubal tossed nine pitches in the first inning, 28 pitches in the second, 12 pitches in the third, nine pitches in the fourth and 31 pitches (for two outs) in the fifth.

The Royals didn’t tag Skubal hard (83.8 mph average exit velocity), but they took advantage of his poor command by working deep into counts before either drawing walks or hitting mistakes.

“It’s a little bit of a mechanical thing that we’ve talked about,” Barnhart said. “I think the better he stays through his pitches, the more consistent they are. … I think it’s just a simple mechanical tweak that will help him out.”

In the fifth, Skubal walked Merrifield on eight pitches to put runners on the corners with two outs. Benintendi increased the Royals’ margin to four runs with an RBI double to left field.

“The walk to Merrifield was actually not a bad walk because I had a left-handed guy on deck,” Skubal said. “I was trying to make pitches, but I was trying to make my pitches. … I didn’t mind facing Benintendi in that situation.”

Kansas City posted its fifth run after right-hander Wily Peralta replaced Skubal with two runners in scoring position. Peralta walked consecutive batters, including one with the bases loaded for Skubal’s final run.

For his 89 pitches (56 strikes), Skubal threw 23 sliders (26%), 22 two-seam fastballs (25%), 21 four-seam fastballs (24%), 20 changeups (22%) and three curveballs (3%). 

He recorded just seven swings and misses, and only two with his slider. He didn’t get a whiff with his four-seamer.

Skubal’s four-seam fastball averaged 92.8 mph, a significant decrease from his 94.1 mph average this season. His slider averaged 88.4 mph, also down from his 89.7 mph average in 2022.

Running with nothing to show

In the third inning, Greene singled on an opposite-field line drive to left field. The 21-year-old rookie appeared to steal second base and advance to third on a wild throw from Gallagher, the Royals’ catcher.

But Reyes negated the stolen base. As he struck out for the second out of the inning, Reyes’ bat contacted Gallagher’s glove arm. Home-plate umpire Manny Gonzalez ruled batter interference and sent Greene back to first.

Four pitches later — with Harold Castro at the plate — Greene took off for second again and was ruled safe by second-base umpire Mark Carlson. The Royals, though, challenged the call. Upon review, Greene was called out to end the inning.

He remains at one stolen base in his 13-game career.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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