Tigers’ Skubal ready to throw to hitters on road to recovery

Detroit News

Kansas City — The Tigers aren’t sharing many details of lefty Tarik Skubal’s bullpen sessions. Even the number of pitches is being kept a secret.

“I threw more than a little and less than a ton,” Skubal said, smiling, after completing his eighth bullpen session Tuesday. “But I’m all good. I feel good. The bullpen went well.”

And here’s the best news. Skubal, who is recovering from flexor tendon surgery, is ready to throw to hitters. The club, through its twice-weekly medical update, announced that he will throw a live batting practice at Comerica Park this weekend. They didn’t give an exact date, but Sunday would be five days between bullpens.

He actually threw to a hitter on Tuesday. But that hitter wasn’t swinging. Andy Ibanez asked if he could step in the box and track pitches during the session.

“I like to do that quite often,” Ibanez said through Tigers’ bilingual interpreter Carlos Guillen. “It helps me with my approach, just to see pitches and study pitches in the box.”

Ibanez, in the midst of an 0-for-24 skid, often tracks pitches from the top step of the dugout during games, whether he’s playing or not.

“He loves that,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Andy isn’t swinging the bat particularly well. He’s getting a little anxious. So that was part of his prep.”

Ibanez offered a brief, but glowing, scouting report of Skubal.

“I understand he’s coming off an injury but he was outstanding,” Ibanez said. “Especially his breaking ball. That was the pitch that surprised me the most. Having him back healthy is going to help us a lot.”

Matchup dilemmas

The Royals feature three left-handed relievers in their bullpen and that’s causing Hinch some atypical headaches as he tries to create and exploit matchup advantages throughout the game.

Case in point: With the Tigers up 5-3 in the fourth inning Monday, he went to his bench early, pinch-hitting right-handed swinging Ibanez for lefty Nick Maton. There was a runner at first and lefty reliever Josh Taylor was on the mound.

“With a guy on first and a ball in the gap in this ballpark and you can score from first relatively easily,” Hinch said. “We had the lefty-righty matchup. But that did set up a pocket of right-handers for later that was difficult to navigate with their bullpen.”

It’s a give-and-take. Ibanez struck out and later in the game Hinch had no left-handed options to use against Royals right-handers Jose Cuas and Taylor Clarke.

“Those are the scenarios in play when I’m managing the now and also thinking about the latter part of the game,” he said. “I still think being aggressive early is better than waiting to put up a late-inning rally against some of the beasts in the back end of these bullpens.”

Hinch’s mid-game matchup switches have paid dividends throughout the season. It’s how the position-player roster was assembled, with a blend of hitters who have clearly-defined strengths and natural weaknesses against certain types of pitchers.

In Washington, the Nationals had no left-hander relievers. In Kansas City, the Royals have three. Both present different challenges to a manager.

“The makeup of the opponent always makes me think about a lot of different scenarios,” he said. “When to chase the matchup versus when to hang in and wait for a future matchup. But the one thing I’ve learned in managing is you can’t assume situations are automatically going to develop later in the game.

“That’s why I’ve been consistent with being aggressive early in the game.”

Graduation day

The Tigers are going to be without their two top bench bosses in separate games this week.

Bench coach George Lombard left the team Tuesday and will be gone Wednesday. He is in Miami attending the high school graduation of his son, George, Jr. Junior has accepted a baseball scholarship to Vanderbilt.

Assistant hitting coach James Rowson will step in and handle Lombard’s bench duties against the Royals.

On Friday, Lombard will be managing the Tigers at Comerica Park against the White Sox.

Hinch will be in Houston attending the high school graduation of his daughter Kaitlin.

Around the horn

Casey Mize (recovering from elbow and back surgery) experienced mild low back soreness after his most recent throwing session. His throwing program had already been paused, as part of a built-in rest and recovery period. “Things are going to come up from time to time,” Hinch said. “We’re going to continue to address them and continue to take steps forward.”

… The news was more encouraging for right-hander Beau Brieske (ulnar nerve entrapment). He is scheduled to throw a live batting practice session tomorrow in Lakeland.

… The Tigers have won five extra-inning games this month, the most in baseball. They are 5-2 in extra-inning games.


Twitter: @cmccosky

Tigers at Royals

When: 7:40 p.m., Wednesday, Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

Scouting report

LHP Matthew Boyd (3-3, 6.21), Tigers: You saw in his last start what happens when he syncs up and commands his four-pitch mix – he threw five no-hit innings at Washington. His four-seam fastball has been as good as it’s ever been. The velocity is not what it once was, it’s 91-92. But with an elite spin rate (2,498 rpm, top 7 percentile in baseball) and 6-4 feet extension, his 29% swing-and-miss rate is the best of his career. And he’s holding hitters to a .225 average with 19 punchouts.

RHP Zack Greinke (1-5, 4.82), Royals: He’s still getting it done, at age 39. He’s still befuddling hitters with six pitches, not a one of them straight and not a one exceeding 90 mph. In four May starts, he’s allowed seven earned runs, with 14 strikeouts and one walk, holding hitters to a .211 average.

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