'What do you do?': Red Sox KO Tarik Skubal early, sweep Tigers out of Boston
Boston — Tarik Skubal, asked where his frustration level was Wednesday night after he endured his third straight rough start, let out a sort of groan, paused, and then chose his words carefully.
"I can be as frustrated as I want but it doesn't matter," he said. "What I'm doing on the field is what matters and I'm not doing my job. That's the frustrating part."
Skubal didn’t survive the fifth inning and the Red Sox completed the three-game sweep of the Tigers with a 6-2 win at Fenway Park.
There may have been two levels to what Skubal was feeling afterward. One level was the pain of the loss, the pit in a competitor's gut when he feels he let his teammates down. The other was abject disgust with how things unraveled on him against a pesky and potent Red Sox lineup.
"I don't know what happened," manager AJ Hinch said. "They hit him. There was a walk mixed in there in both of their big innings — walks and damage. A little bit of everything happened at the end."
Part of the story, too, is that the Red Sox didn't hit him especially hard. The average exit velocity on the 15 balls they put in play against Skubal was 85 mph. Only three balls were hit 100 mph or harder.
"It is frustrating but it is part of the game," Skubal said. "What do you do? You can't do anything about it as a pitcher. Just continue to work hard and get better every day and learn from this."
Hard-hit or hardly-hit, the final line was still ugly: 4.2 innings, six hits, six runs, three walks, five strikeouts, 99 pitches. Skubal has now been tagged for 15 runs in 13.2 innings over his last three starts.
"We'll get back to it," Hinch said. "He'll pitch again in San Francisco. He's good enough to make the adjustment and get back in the win column."
It looked for a minute there that Skubal had made the adjustment. For the first two innings he was bullying hitters with his fastball and throwing just enough sliders and changeups to keep them honest.
He put down the first six and had a 2-0 lead thanks to Javier Báez's second homer in two games, a two-run shot over the Green Monster in the first inning. Skubal’s fastballs, especially his two-seamer, had a lot of zip, hitting 96 and 97 mph on the radar gun.
Everything was different in the third inning.
The velocity dropped and his command got spotty. Boston scored four times. Christian Vazquez and left-handed hitting Jarren Duran doubled. Then Rob Refsnyder blasted his first home run of the season.
Skubal also walked a pair in that 29-pitch third.
"I thought my rhythm was pretty good today," he said. "My tempo was pretty good today. It's just baseball."
After a scoreless fourth inning, Refsnyder doubled and Skubal walked J.D. Martinez after a 10-pitch fight with one out in the fifth. Skubal's pitch count was climbing toward 90.
With runners at second and third and two outs, left-handed hitting Alex Verdugo, with what looked almost like an excuse-me swing, ladled one into left field, scoring both runs. That was symbolic of the night for Skubal.
"I'm going to watch film and see what I did well and what I didn't do well and go from there," Skubal said. "The beauty of this game is you get a lot of starts. These last three didn't go the way I wanted them to. But I will come to work tomorrow and attack the day and try to get better."
Baez’s homer, his sixth of the season, was all the damage the Tigers could do against Red Sox starter Michael Wacha. Báez, who also singled and walked against Wacha, extended his hitting streak to seven games. He is 11 for 27 with three doubles, a triple and three homers in that stretch.
"His at-bats have been very encouraging," Hinch said. "We've seen him do a little bit of everything in his time with us. When he is selective and when he goes after pitches he can handle, he does a lot of damage. And he does it to all fields.
"It's really encouraging to see him get warmed up."
The Tigers, who have lost nine of their last 11 games, are off Thursday before starting a three-game series in Phoenix against the Diamondbacks Friday.
Hinch was asked where his confidence-level was with Skubal right now.
"I don't think three rough outings define you," he said. "Just like I don't think three good outings mean you got it all figured out. It's a tough league. He won't back down, I know that. He won't lose confidence.
"He needs to learn to make a few adjustments. He's really hard on himself. But this is the big leagues."