Detroit Tigers’ Tarik Skubal takes big step towards MLB return from arm surgery

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers left-hander Tarik Skubal stood on the mound in the bullpen Saturday at Comerica Park. Tim Remes, the bullpen catcher, crouched behind home plate, while athletic trainers Duncan Evans and Ryne Eubanks monitored his movements from the side. Some of his teammates came outside to watch, too.

Skubal ripped 15 fastballs.

Full conviction, no hesitation, a lot of nerves.

“The ball came out well,” Skubal said Sunday. “I felt good yesterday, and I feel good today. That’s the most important thing. Bullpen next week, and then increase pitches, kind of like a normal progression would go in spring training.”

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The 26-year-old, who underwent left flexor tendon surgery in mid-August, completed his first bullpen session without a setback. It was his first time pitching off the mound since Aug. 1 against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field, when he exited the game after five scoreless innings with arm fatigue.

He had been waiting for nearly nine months.

“Talking about it right now, I get nervous again,” Skubal said. “But it was good. I think the nerves mean you really care about it. That’s something I was really looking forward to. I had it on the calendar for a while now.”

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Skubal posted a 3.52 ERA with 32 walks and 117 strikeouts across 117⅔ innings in 21 starts last season. He fired 17 scoreless innings in his final three starts.

He had a 2.33 ERA in his first 11 starts.

Manager A.J. Hinch joked that Skubal, currently on the 60-day injured list with fellow pitchers Casey Mize and Matt Manning, might have been throwing too hard in his first bullpen.

But the confidence is a positive sign.

“It’s a good step,” Hinch said Sunday. “These guys go step by step, and we try not to get too far ahead of ourselves and start thinking about anything other than what the next throw day for him is. For me, with the guys that are out for longer than a week, it’s just small victories along the way on a journey to get to the finish line.”

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Skubal, a ninth-round pick in the 2018 draft, has a 4.15 ERA with 318 strikeouts across 299 innings in his MLB career, which spans parts of three seasons. He is arguably the best pitcher in the organization.

The Tigers can’t activate him from the injured list until the end of May, which seems like a potential target for his first rehab start.

“He’ll just progress, and we’ll update you guys accordingly,” Hinch said. “But getting him back on the mound fairly regularly is the goal, always keeping in mind that the schedule can change. We’re getting him back into being a pitcher.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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