Tigers allow only two hits in Skubal’s debut, but lose 1-0 to A’s in 10 innings

Detroit News

Detroit — AJ Hinch didn’t want to give away the game plan before the game Tuesday, but he also didn’t want everyone to freak out if Tarik Skubal came out of his season debut a little earlier than might be expected.

The plan all along was to make it a piggyback start for Skubal and rookie Reese Olson. And, of course, he didn’t want the Athletics to know that ahead of time. So, he had to talk in code.

“This is kind of like a late March, early April start for him,” Hinch said. “He’s coming off a major injury and a conservative ramp back. He’s not going to go nine innings. He’s not going to throw a no-hitter or set any personal records.”

Well, hold on.

Making his first start in 337 days, since Aug. 1, 2022, after which he had flexor tendon surgery, Skubal did, in fact, pitch no-hit baseball. But only for four scoreless innings. The only base runner he allowed, All-Star Brent Rooker, was hit by a pitch.

Olson matched that, allowing only one hit, a two-out single in the seventh, in his five innings – from the fifth through the ninth.

The two pitchers combined to allow one hit with 11 strikeouts in nine innings.

And yet, it wasn’t enough to secure a win against the 63-loss Oakland Athletics.

BOX SCORE: A’s 1, Tigers 0 (10)

“I hate the loss,” Hinch said, after a two-out RBI single to left by Ryan Noda plated the free runner in the 10th inning off lefty Tyler Holton, giving the A’s a 1-0 win at Comerica Park. “We had every chance to win the game. I counted seven at-bats that were pretty critical and in those at-bats we drew two walks. They won the other at-bats with the game on the line at various points.

“When that happens, it’s frustrating. You don’t want to waste the pitching we had tonight.”

It was the 11th time the Tigers have been shut out.

Oakland’s lefty starter JP Sears matched both Skubal and Olson. Sears, who had the misfortune of pitching opposite of Yankees’ Domingo German’s perfect game last week, blanked the Tigers on five singles in a career-high 7.1 innings.

The Tigers stranded a runner at second base in the first two innings and then didn’t manage another scoring opportunity until the eighth. They had a runner at third with one out and then the bases loaded with two outs. Right-handed reliever Lucas Erceg first struck out Spencer Torkelson and then Javier Baez to end the threat.

“Yeah, that sucks,” catcher Jake Rogers said. “Our pitchers pitched great. When they get on a roll like that it’s pretty easy to catch. It’s tough that we couldn’t get them any run support. Tough loss.”

Tough loss, for sure, but also most encouraging. Skubal’s stuff was electric. His four-seam fastball was sitting at 96 mph and hitting 98, and he had command of all three secondary pitches – slider, changeup and knuckle curve.

Ask Oakland’s Nick Allen about the impact of that heater. Skubal unleashed a 98-mph four-seamer on the inside black that buckled Allen so severely that he literally fell to a knee.

It was one of his six strikeouts and the last of a run of four straight over the second and third innings.

“I’m healthy and it was fun to get out there and compete − and that was the goal,” Skubal said. “Just to feel good coming out of it and I do. The nerves were definitely there but it was good to get out there and do what I do.”

More: Tigers’ Tyler Alexander goes on 60-day IL, expected to miss the remainder of the season

Hinch said the plan was for Skubal to pitch four innings and no more than 65 pitches. He ended up throwing 57 pitches and 41 strikes.

Asked if he was surprised that Skubal was as sharp and strong in his first big-league start in 11 months, Hinch said, “No. I kind of expect Skubal to be a monster every time. He’s an incredible pitcher. I think the best part is how he harnessed his emotions. He pitches with some fire and aggressiveness and I know he was very excited to be back out there.

“That was maybe a pleasant surprise − that he was commanding his pitches so well. But I expect him to be great.”

There was one scary moment. Skubal grabbed at the back of his left leg after he struck out Esteury Ruiz to start the fourth inning. Hinch and head athletic trainer Ryne Eubanks came out to check. Skubal made two warmup pitches to assure them he was OK and finished the inning.

“Just a hamstring cramp,” he said. “It was hot.”

Said Hinch: “I held my breath as long as I could. I was frustrated having to come out to the mound again (for an injury) but once he said his leg was cramping in his hamstring, we all exhaled. He didn’t want any water. He wanted us to get off the mound and let him pitch.”

Olson was equally brilliant. He expertly mixed sliders and changeups, regardless of the count, off his 95-mph four-seamer. In his five innings he allowed two base runners – a walk to Ryan Noda in the fifth and the two-out opposite-field single to catcher Shea Langeliers in the seventh.

“He was really, really good,” Skubal said of Olson. “I mean, he lost the no-hitter (smiling), but he was really good. No, that’s a joke. What did he have five innings, five punch-outs? He was awesome.”

Skubal said he’d missed the energy and even the anxiety that comes with start day in the big leagues. He’d missed the support he gets from his teammates, before, during and after.

“Our team does a great job of supporting each other,” he said. “I don’t take that for granted when they’re excited. I worked really hard for this these last 11 months and I don’t take this stuff for granted. Having the support of this team has been awesome.”

The steady velocity and the sharpness and vertical tilt on his slider were fairly special, too. It showed that the work he’s put in with the pitching department, even while rehabbing, paid off.

“The velo is there and the slider shape is what I want,” Skubal said. “There’s stuff I can refine but I think my command was pretty good. I threw a ton of strikes.”

What hasn’t changed at all, though, is his attack mentality.

“Just attacking guys over the plate,” he said. “Letting them hit my pitch. I’m going to throw stuff at them. I’m going to throw strikes. If you can hit it then you hit it, if you can’t, then you can’t. Just getting that mindset hammered out is huge.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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