Detroit — In case you forgot what a monster lefty Tarik Skubal can be when he’s got a baseball in his hand, let his performance Monday serve as an indelible reminder.
“He was dominant, period,” manager AJ Hinch said. “That’s the quote.”
Making his fourth start of the season, coming off flexor tendon surgery, he struck out nine in five shutout innings to help the Tigers beat the San Francisco Giants, 5-1, at Comerica Park in the makeup game from the April 16 rainout. The win secures a sweep of the interrupted series.
“That’s as good as he’s been since coming back,” Hinch said. “He reared back and had a ton of velocity. He had both his breaking balls and his changeup was excellent. He was well-rounded, creative and he held his stuff all the way to the end. If you were to tell me at the start of the day this is what his workload would be, I’d have been thrilled.
“Add on top of that the performance, what more could you ask for?”
Skubal allowed just two singles and didn’t walk anybody. It was a study in power and finesse. His four-seam fastball, which touched 98 mph and sat at 96, was overpowering at times and he established it early with two first-inning punch-outs at 98 and 97 mph.
By the third inning, he’d introduced the rest of his arsenal — the slider, knuckle curveball, changeup and sinker. He was in full art-of-pitching mode by the fourth inning when he struck out the first two hitters, Wilmer Flores and J.D. Davis, on three pitches each.
To Flores, Skubal threw a changeup and then two straight heaters (94 and 96). To Davis, he went curve, slider, changeup.
“I just stayed aggressive,” said Skubal, who was coming off a rough outing in Kansas City where he was victimized by a 32-pitch, five-run fourth inning. “The last time I lacked aggressiveness with certain pitches and in certain counts where you shouldn’t. Keeping on the attack pitch by pitch was the biggest adjustment that I made.”
He was at 65 pitches, which earned him the fifth inning for the first time this season. He made the most of that, ending his day by striking out David Villar (95-mph heater after three straight off-speed pitches) and Casey Schmitt (winning a nine-pitch fight with a 97-mph heater).
He got first-pitch strikes with all three of his secondary pitches, two each with his curve and changeup. He got 13 swinging strikes total and 15 called strikes.
“This is a team that controls the zone really well,” Skubal said. “You have to establish in the zone before you can go out of the zone. That’s the type of lineup they have. For me, that was the goal, just attack in the zone early and hope it opened things up in two-strike counts.”
The high-octane heat early served to put the Giants’ hitters on their heels. Landing the secondary stuff buckled their knees.
“The art of pitching is still alive,” Hinch said. “I know the race to the best pitches, the best shapes, best stuff at all times and that’s very much true and very effective. But if you can show different things to hitters the more you see them, it’s incredibly impactful. They knew he was juiced up today with the high velo and then to drop a slow breaking ball and it’s 0-1, it immediately puts the hitter on the defensive.
“I’m really happy he had the feel to do that in the midst of the strength that was behind his stuff. That’s a well-rounded pitcher.”
It was Skubal’s first win since July 21 of last year. That was also the last time he struck out nine in a game. He hadn’t pitched five full innings since the surgery.
“Well, it’s one more than four,” he said, laughing. “It’s just part of the progression. Hopefully, eventually the reins will come off and I can go back to throwing 100 pitches and be able to compete for six or seven or however many innings I can.”
“We all know that’s who he is,” said Zack Short, who put a cap on the win with a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth. “He’s been here in the dugout with us the whole first half of the year cheering us on while he was rehabbing. To see him go out and perform like he did today, like, nobody is surprised. That’s what he’s going to do for a very long time.”
The middle of the Tigers’ batting order got things off on the right foot. Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter were 7-for-12 combined and factored in all three runs against Giants starter Ross Stripling.
Greene had a double, two singles and scored twice. Torkelson had two singles and knocked in the first run. Carpenter ripped a pair of RBI singles.
Short, who slammed a first-pitch slider off right-handed reliever Ryan Walker off the foul pole in left, cost his longtime friend and college teammate Jason Foley a save. Foley pitched a scoreless ninth after Tyler Holton posted four straight outs.
“I don’t care about that,” Short said, laughing. “He’s cost me plenty over the years.”