Skubal hits first rough patch in return to rotation 

Detroit Tigers

KANSAS CITY — Tarik Skubal was warming in the bullpen for his start Tuesday when he was briefly held up for weather. Though a late afternoon storm had passed, another shower was threatening to clip Kauffman Stadium and potentially delay the start. Skubal got the go-ahead to finish, but the interruption wasn’t welcome.

The only storm Skubal faced was a five-run fourth-inning deluge from Royals batters whom he had generally dominated for the first few innings. And as the Tigers digested an 11-10 loss despite two homers from Spencer Torkelson, falling just short of a comeback with a four-run ninth inning, Skubal was left to wonder what went so suddenly awry in his third start back from flexor tendon surgery in his left elbow

“Wasted opportunity for our team to win,” Skubal said. “I didn’t do a good job of limiting the damage when the damage was done, so just not putting our team in a position to win. Especially with the runs we scored tonight, pretty frustrating and disappointed in myself for sure.”

Skubal, pitching on eight days’ rest thanks to the All-Star break and the Tigers’ move to push him back in the rotation, came out on point. Not only did he retire the side in order in his first two innings, he struck out three of six batters and induced groundouts from the other three. 

The stuff then was dominant. Maikel Garcia froze on a 96.6 mph fastball on the inside corner for a called third strike to lead off the first. Nick Pratto chased a slider into the dirt for a three-pitch strikeout in the second. Then Skubal ended the second inning with his hardest pitch of the night, a 97.5 mph fastball at the top of the zone that Freddy Fermin could only foul tip into catcher Jake Rogers’ glove.

It was a continuation of the dominance Skubal posted in two four-inning scoreless starts before the break. 

His two runs in the third could be attributed in part to misfortune, from a leadoff double that bounced over third baseman Zack Short’s head and down the left-field line to a first-pitch slider over the plate that Dairon Blanco lined over left fielder Eric Haase’s head for an RBI triple ahead of a Garcia sacrifice fly.

The 108.5 mph exit velocity made Blanco’s triple the hardest-hit ball of the night from Kansas City. The Royals didn’t crush Skubal in the fourth so much as they overwhelmed him with solid hits.

“Pitch execution,” Skubal said. “I kind of leaked middle with a lot of things today. Guys can hit those pitches.”

Skubal threw 32 pitches in the fourth, matching his total from the first three. The Royals swung and missed on only one pitch in the fourth, a 1-0 slider to leadoff hitter MJ Melendez, whose single off a sinker at the knees started a string of seven consecutive baserunners. Skubal’s only out in that stretch came when Rogers picked off Melendez at third base.

Skubal drew just three called strikes in the inning, all on first-pitch secondary offerings. Later in counts, the Royals were all over those same pitches.

“The first time through [the order], there were a lot of fastballs that we did not get to,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “The second time through, it seemed like when he threw a breaking ball in the zone, we were ready.”

Drew Waters took a first-pitch slider for a strike, then tripled on an 0-2 changeup over the middle of the plate. Garcia took a changeup at the bottom of the zone, then had a hard-hit lineout on a 1-2 changeup in the same spot. When Skubal tried to recover from a four-pitch walk by stealing a first-pitch strike with a curveball over the plate, Fermin crushed it off the left-field fence for an RBI double.

“They laid off some pretty good executed secondary pitches down, and they didn’t miss some of the key pitches over the plate,” manager A.J. Hinch said.

Was there something in Skubal’s mannerism that might have tipped his pitches, even just non-fastballs? Skubal was skeptical.

“No, no,” Skubal said. “I’m not gonna … no.”

“More about what they did. They made him work a ton, came up with some really big base hits in the air,” Hinch added.

Skubal will have time to regroup. The Tigers already appeared likely to use an extra starter or bullpen game against the Padres this weekend to give Skubal an extra day’s rest, setting him up for next Monday’s makeup game against the Giants. Tuesday reinforced the need to ease him in.

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