Detroit — The Tigers have fallen back on one of their less endearing traits, one that dogged them through the early part of the season. The small margin for error trait.
Lefty starter Tarik Skubal − just as rookie Reese Olson did Monday night and Alex Faedo on Sunday − pitched well enough to win Tuesday. He allowed three runs (two earned) through six innings. A quality start, by definition.
But the offense lay dormant for eighth innings and the Yankees beat the Tigers for the second night in a row, 4-2. It’s the fourth straight loss and they fall to a season-worst 14 games under .500 (59-73).
“This is not our first game or our first stretch (where they’ve struggled to score,” manager AJ Hinch said. “It’s not anything we can avoid. The reality is, you’ve got to score to win and we haven’t been able to piece enough together, certainly not recently. But everyone is aware. It’s no secret. We’re not hiding from it.
“It just hasn’t been a fun experience going through nine innings of struggle like this.”
Largely because of Skubal, though, the Tigers brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth against Yankees closer Clay Holmes.
Down 4-0, Spencer Torkelson walked and Zach McKinstry doubled him to third base. Rookie Parker Meadows delivered his third hit of the night, a two-run single. But Holmes was able to strike out Javier Baez to end it.
“I just think it’s the name of the game,” Torkelson said of the offensive rut. “You try to keep the hot streaks going as long as possible and you try to minimize the length of the cold ones. Right now we’re cold but it’s not for a lack of confidence.
“It’s just a matter of time.”
Skubal, who struck out nine and got 15 swinging strikes and 23 called strikes in six impressive innings, was accepting no moral victories.
“I felt like I did what I was supposed to do, give our team a chance to win,” he said. “But what matters is winning and losing out there. I feel good physically. I’ve felt good for five months now. It’s about winning and losing. If you pitch well and lose, it doesn’t matter. It’s about what the scoreboard says.”
Skubal went at the all right-handed Yankees lineup with a somewhat inverted pitch-plan – soft to hard. He pitched more off his changeup and slider than his sizzling fastball (which sat at 96 and was hitting 98).
“I think he’s tired of people trying to ambush him,” Hinch said. “(D.J.) LeMahieu hardly ever swings at the first pitch in any of his at-bats, let alone the first pitch of the game, and even he did it. There have been a number of games where guys have tried to ambush him so he countered with off-speed and breaking balls and better-placed fastballs.
“I thought that was awesome.”
Skubal allowed only four hits in his six innings. He threw one fewer changeup (24) than he did four-seamers (25) and got 12 swinging strikes on 17 swings with it. He got 10 called strikes with his heater.
“Most teams are going to swing at the first pitch,” Skubal said. “They want to hit a fastball. I used to look at first-pitch swing percentages but it was higher than the numbers say. That team wants to hit lefty fastballs so obviously you don’t want to give them that pitch to hit.”
Until a bizarre sixth inning, the only damage against him was a pair of two-out solo home runs.
In the first inning, he threw Gleyber Torres three straight 97-mph fastballs. The third one was launched. Torres hit it 454 feet – the third longest homer at Comerica Park this season – over the bullpens in left field. It was Torres’ 2 homer.
Hinch said throwing three straight heaters to Torres was a “dangerous plan.”
Skubal said: “I’m going to challenge him every time with a heater in the first inning.”
In the fifth inning, he got ahead of Kyle Higashioka 1-2 with four straight fastballs. Then he left a slider up and that one got launched to left, too. This one barely getting over the wall and into the Tigers’ bullpen.
The run he gave up in the sixth was unearned. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out on an error by third baseman Matt Vierling, a hit-batsman (Skubal hit Torres with the count 0-2) and a single. Skubal, though, struck out Anthony Volpe and it looked like he might wriggle out of it.
On the next pitch, catcher Carson Kelly completely missed a knuckle curveball. The ball, not a dirt ball, went to the backstop and the run scored.
“I thought Carson was awesome back there,” Skubal said. “He’s grinding for every pitch to be a strike and I can appreciate that. Every pitch, no matter where it’s at, he’s trying to make it look like a strike. That one just got off his hand a little bit.”
Volpe provided a tack-on run in the ninth, whacking his 19th homer of the season off reliever Garrett Hill.
“We were quiet for the first eight innings,” Hinch said. “We couldn’t get the ball out of the infield, lot of ground ball outs (eight) and a few punch-outs (10). You package all that together and it’s not a great offensive night. We have to do more if we expect to win.”
No worries, though. On Wednesday the Tigers get to face Cy Young favorite Gerrit Cole. Woof.