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'Front-line guy': In ways overt and covert, Tigers' Tarik Skubal continues to blossom


Detroit — Sometimes growth in a young player is overt. It’s recognizable, plain as day, from the performance numbers. Rookie Akil Baddoo’s growth, for example, from where he was in May to where he is now — you don’t need a degree in sabermetrics to see it.

Overt.

Other times, though, it’s more covert, parts of it aren’t as easily detectable. We offer rookie left-hander Tarik Skubal’s performance in the Tigers’ 4-1 win Tuesday night over the Rangers as an example.

For sure there are obvious signs of his growth. Skubal had an ERA just under 6, with oppone nts hitting .267 and slugging .588 with a .945 OPS in his first eight outings this season. The Tigers were 0-8 in those appearances.

From May 19 on, though, the Tigers are 8-3 in his 11 starts. He’s posted a 3.36 ERA with opponents hitting .229 and slugging .381 with a .681 OPS.

Overt signs of progress.

But to understand how he’s developing, how he’s transitioning from a power-armed thrower into a more mound-savvy pitcher, his six-inning performance against the Rangers is a good one to study. Because, unlike a lot of his better outings, he didn’t get a ton of swing and misses (eight on 41 swings) or strikeouts (four).

 He wasn’t necessarily dominating the Rangers with his stuff. He was just beating them.

“We won; that’s the goal every time I take the ball,” Skubal said. “I think I could’ve been better with two strikes. Some of the pitches I threw with two strikes weren’t as quality as they could’ve been. But also, this team is pretty aggressive, and if I execute a sinker early it usually turned into a ground ball.

“And I knew that going in.”

The Rangers were hunting heaters early in counts. Three of their first four hitters swung at a first- or second-pitch fastballs from Skubal. It called for a quick adjustment from rookie catcher Eric Haase and Skubal.

He started pitching more off his changeup, especially to the seven right-handed hitters in the Rangers lineup.

“It was key for Haase and Skubal to recognize that the changeup was going to be important,” manager AJ Hinch said. “If they were going to hunt heaters early, give them something that looks like a heater but is softer and slower and has some movement.

“The attack plan wasn’t necessarily to go out with (the changeup) all the time. But it was nice that they could make that adjustment based on the aggression of their team.”

He only threw 12 changeups, but it was exactly enough to get the Rangers off the fastball. He got four misses on five swings and three called strikes with it. Only one changeup was put in play. And once he threw that little wrinkle against the Rangers’ aggressiveness, he could go back to popping his four-seamer and sinker (both sitting just under 95 mph) and mixing the slider.

It was a grown-up performance.

“It’s not a surprise,” Hinch said. “I think it shows that people can just learn to be a little patient with young pitching when they reach the big leagues. I mean, his stuff is incredible. His makeup is excellent. His preparedness is great.

“His mind, the way it works during a game, the game has slowed down a little bit for him. He’s very, very sharp with what he’s wanting to do and how he’s going about it.”

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If you haven’t noticed, the kids are leading this rotation now. With Spencer Turnbull gone until 2023, facing Tommy John surgery, and Matthew Boyd not due back for a few more weeks, Skubal and Casey Mize are the de facto Nos. 1 and No. 2.

It’s OK if you didn’t notice, though. Neither has Skubal.

“I don’t think there’s any added pressure,” Skubal said. “I understand the importance of starting pitching. It sets the tone and helps establish the bullpen guys and puts them in good spots to go out there and have success. I understand all that.

“But I think we’re all just trying to do our job. Just go out and give our team a chance to win every time we toe the rubber.”

Skubal is going to have his innings rationed soon, which is unfortunate but necessary. Mize is coming out of his rationing period and the limited-innings starts hasn’t hindered his development one bit.

Which bodes well for Skubal, who has thrown 94.2 innings this season, 62.2 more than he threw last year.

“This is development at this level,” Hinch said. “We’re watching it and we should enjoy it. And he can get even better. There are areas of his game that he’s going to continue to nurture and grow in, and that’s exciting to me.

“He’s a front-line guy that has the makeup to back it up.”

Around the horn

Isaac Paredes was scratched from the starting lineup Wednesday. He's still dealing with hip soreness. He tested it before the game, running on the outfield grass under the supervision of head athletic trainer Doug Teter, but he was still uncomfortable. Harold Castro was inserted at second base. 

... Reliever Michael Fulmer (neck soreness) will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Toledo beginning Thursday. Utility man Niko Goodrum (left calf bruise) could be starting his rehab assignment with Toledo this weekend. 

... Outfielder Daz Cameron (toe sprain) is still not ready to play in games. Hinch said Cameron would be on the Tigers trip to Kansas City and Minnesota so he can continue his therapy with the big-league training staff.

Rangers at Tigers

First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Thursday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/radio: BSD, MLB Network/97.1 FM

Scouting report

► RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-9, 5.91), Rangers: Tough times for the former All-Star. He leads the American League with 28 homers allowed in 102 innings and he’s coming off an outing against the Blue Jays where he was busted for 10 runs (four home runs) in 1.2 innings.

LHP Tyler Alexander (1-1, 4.40), Tigers: He’s being given the opportunity to stay in the rotation, something he’s wanted since spring training. He’s earned it with some stingy work recently out of the bullpen. He’s doubled the usage of his refashioned cutter and gotten good results, a .237 expected batting average against and light contact (88.6 mph average exit velocity).

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky