Anaheim, Calif. — Tarik Skubal was actually upset with himself after his last start, never mind that he blanked the White Sox with nine strikeouts over five, two-hit innings.
It chafed him that he needed 95 pitches to get through five innings. Too many 0-2 counts that went to full counts. Too many long at-bats. The outing was way too short for his liking.
He made amends Friday night.
Skubal was a portrait of dominance and efficiency, striking out nine and allowing just a run and three hits in seven innings in the Tigers’ 11-2 win against the Los Angeles Angels.
He got his nine strikeouts this time in seven innings, needing only 91 pitches to do it.
“Except for a couple in the sixth and seventh innings, there weren’t a lot of long at-bats,” Skubal said. “Just getting them out in three or four pitches. The really good ones in this game do that. That’s the goal. Three or four pitches or less.”
It’s time to put Skubal in that “really good one” category. His manager is certainly on board with that.
“He goes out there every time and expects to give his team a chance to win,” AJ Hinch said. “He wants to go as deep as he can. He has a full array of pitches and he’s elite. He’s starting to grow into that responsibility and he’s taking it seriously.”
The Angels had mustered only two singles off him through six innings. With one out in the seventh, head athletic trainer Ryne Eubanks and Hinch came to the mound. It looked like it might be a blister issue, but Skubal had cut into his thumb with the nail of his left middle finger.
Just a little blood on the baseball. Kind of fitting.
“His stubbornness to stay on the attack was really good the entire game,” Hinch said. “He was relentless and in attack-mode. He used all of his pitches anytime he wanted. The first time through the order, he was dominant. Second time through he was really good. And he finished his outing strong and had more in the tank.
“I just love how he stayed competitive through the whole game.”The only blemish came with two outs in the seventh. Veteran David Fletcher ambushed a first-pitch slider, a pitch that was in and off the plate, lining it off the foul pole in left.
“There have been very few games when he hasn’t been on the top of his game,” said catcher Jake Rogers, who had a big night himself. “He’s just fun to catch. He’s a competitor, man. He’s the ultimate bulldog out there.”
The Angels stacked their lineup with eight right-handed hitters, which encouraged Rogers and Skubal to dust off one of his lesser-used pitches, his two-seam fastball. With that and his changeup working effectively together off a four-seam fastball that sat at 96 mph and was hitting 99, he was in complete control.
“It’s another pitch,” Rogers said. “When I’m hitting and the guy’s got a two-seamer and a four-seamer, two pitches, you have to pick one. And most of the time, they’re going to pick the four-seamer. It’s just another pitch to get guys off-balance. And he was dotting it, especially up and in.
“He was throwing in, throwing up, throwing down − everything was working.”
Throwing the two-seamers up and in to the right-handers opened up the changeup, a pitch that moves away from the right-handers.
“He was just unpredictable,” Hinch said. “I think as a power pitcher to be mixing four shapes like that, a hitter has a lot to think about.”
Skubal ended up getting 18 swinging strikes and 15 called strikes, 11 swinging strikes on 15 swings with the changeup.
“I love winning games like that,” Skubal said, when asked about his team’s offensive outburst. “It gives you momentum, it’s good for tomorrow. I mean, we fly across the country from Detroit to the West Coast with no off-day and for our guys to put up a performance like that, I’m just excited to see those guys get back in the box tomorrow.”
The Tigers, who were swept by the Angels at Comerica Park in late July, blew the game open with a season-best seven-run barrage in the eighth inning. Rogers and Javier Báez had a couple of big knocks to lead the charge.
Báez knocked in four runs with a solo homer (his ninth) and a three-run double. His home run led off the fourth off Angels starter Griffin Canning. He destroyed a 2-1 fastball in the center of the plate, hitting it 416 feet to right-center.
His three-run double keyed the big eighth inning.
“Good way to start the trip,” Hinch said. “He was a difference-maker. I know sometimes, with his struggles, he doesn’t always get credit for the things he can do. This was a good reminder that he’s a pretty good player.”
Rogers three hits, including his 17th homer, which he hit with two outs in the sixth, was also off Canning.
“I’ve faced him quite a bit,” Rogers said. “I faced him in my big-league debut, he was the first pitcher I faced, right here in 2019. I knew he was going to attack me. It felt good.”
It was a 4-1 game in the eighth when lefty Jonathan Diaz took over for the Angels. His night went poorly. He gave up seven runs and seven hits and only got one batter out. Third baseman Eduardo Escobar had to finish the inning, getting Zack Short and Andy Ibanez.
Escobar, throwing 38-mph breaking balls, ended up getting five straight outs. But the fatal damage had been long inflicted.
Miguel Cabrera, who had two hits, started the inning with an infield single. Andre Lipcius, who had an RBI double in the first, and pinch-hitter Andy Ibanez both singled to load the bases.
Báez cleared them with his double. Rogers followed with a single, Parker Meadows walked, Matt Vierling hit a sacrifice fly, Torkelson doubled in a run and Kerry Carpenter singled in two runs.
“That’s about as good as it gets,” Rogers said. “Lots of hits. Lots of quick outs from Skubes. Complete team win.”