MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Twins right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who entered Monday with an 8.33 ERA, recorded eight strikeouts against the Detroit Tigers in his first MLB start since May 28 with the Washington Nationals.
Sanchez logged his highest strikeout total since July 2019, doing so on 17 swings and misses.
Luckily for the Tigers, left-hander Tarik Skubal — in his final start before Tuesday’s trade deadline — was better than Sanchez. He pitched five scoreless innings, but the Tigers removed him from the game after throwing 77 pitches due to left arm fatigue.
“He said he was gassed, felt fatigued and didn’t feel like he could let it go,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “As soon as he said that, I took him out of the game right away. He just came in and said he feels a lot better than he did before.”
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Despite Skubal’s effort, the Tigers’ bullpen failed to reward him with a victory. But the Tigers lost, 5-3, in extra innings. Gio Urshela drilled a walk-off home run with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning against right-handed reliever Alex Lange.
“It was a winnable game,” Hinch said. “It’s a tough loss.”
The Twins scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, both charged to right-handed reliever Michael Fulmer. The Tigers (41-63) still had a chance to win, but the offense went silent in the top of the ninth.
Meanwhile, the Twins fumbled their ninth-inning opportunity.
Left-handed closer Gregory Soto replaced Fulmer and got the final two outs in the eighth inning. Hinch kept Soto in for the ninth to face the bottom of Minnesota’s batting order.
The first two batters — Nick Gordon and Gary Sanchez — reached with singles, and Hinch trotted to the mound for a meeting with Soto and the infield. Soto struck out Mark Contreras, who tried to bunt three times, then had to face leadoff hitter Jorge Polanco. Polanco flied out to deep center field but advanced Gordon to third base.
“I told him in the bunt situation: ‘You got 100 (mph) in your back pocket. You’re tough to bunt, you’re tough to hit. Get an out,'” Hinch said. “He could escape it by throwing strikes and not trying to be a superhero out there.”
Soto walked Correa to load the bases, but on the ball four in the dirt, Gordon jumped toward home plate. He couldn’t get back to third base in time, though, as catcher Tucker Barnhart picked him off to escape Soto’s jam unscathed and send the game to extra innings.
“Trapping a fastball in the dirt, which is next to impossible to block,” Hinch said. “He’s got gold on his glove, and I can see why.”
The Tigers took a 3-2 lead in the top of the 10th on Akil Baddoo’s RBI single.
Detroit’s offense scored its three runs on five hits and two walks with 14 strikeouts.
The Twins had 12 hits and three walks with seven strikeouts.
Rookie Riley Greene finished 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. Since July 6, Greene is 20-for-95 (.211) with five extra-base hits, five walks and 37 strikeouts in 22 games. The 21-year-old made a diving catch in the seventh inning.
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The Tigers scored runs in the second and fourth innings, both on RBIs from Barnhart.
Barnhart, batting .203 in 65 games, grounded out in the second to score Jeimer Candelario and singled in the fourth to score Miguel Cabrera. Barnhart logged his 10th and 11th RBIs this season, along with his first two-RBI game.
Sanchez allowed two runs on four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in five innings, throwing 81 pitches. He earned his 17 whiffs with nine curveballs, five four-seam fastballs, two changeups and one sinker. His ERA dropped to 7.68 through eight starts in 2022.
The Tigers turned to right-handed relievers Will Vest and Joe Jiménez to complete the sixth and seventh innings, respectively. Both pitchers posted zeros, with Jiménez notching his 56th strikeout in 40 innings and lowering his ERA to 2.93.
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In the eighth, the Tigers fell apart when Fulmer took the mound for his likely final appearance as a member of the organization with the trade deadline looming Tuesday.
The Twins tallied four consecutive singles with one out: Polanco, Correa, Luis Arraez and Jose Miranda. The first three singles loaded the bases, and Miranda’s single on a second-pitch slider drove in two runs.
The fourth single also chased Fulmer from the game.
“Just the two-strike pitches,” Hinch said. “They put the ball in play with two strikes, which was key. Miranda’s (single) was earlier in the count, but they executed.”
Tarik Skubal deals until exit
In the fifth inning, Skubal experienced a velocity loss — his fastball dropped from 94-96 mph to 92-93 mph — and exited the game with arm fatigue. The 25-year-old fired five scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and two walks with four strikeouts.
Skubal threw 48 of 77 pitches for strikes.
In the third, Skubal put back-to-back batters on the bases with two outs, when Polanco doubled and Correa walked on four pitches. But Skubal won an eight-pitch battle with Arraez (.400 on-base percentage) for the third out.
The fifth presented a fascinating situation.
As Skubal walked back to the mound after Contreras’ flyout, Gordon — who reached with a leadoff single — took off for second base. Skubal threw the ball away, ruled an error on the pitcher, and Gordon ended up on third base with two outs.
The next batter, Polanco, lined out to left field for the third out.
For his 77 pitches (48 strikes), Skubal used 22 four-seam fastballs (29%), 19 sliders (25%), 18 changeups (23%), 15 two-seam fastballs (19%) and three knuckle curves (4%). He recorded 13 swings and misses: one four-seamer, four sliders, six changeups and two two-seamers.
Skubal’s four-seam fastball averaged 93.3 mph, down from its 94.2 mph season average. His slider averaged 87.5 mph, also down from its 89.4 mph season average.