Skubal's dominant AZ homecoming fueled by Tigers' bats

May 18th, 2024

PHOENIX -- 's father, Russ, took in the scene from his seat in section 116 as the sun began to peek through the windows at Chase Field on Friday night. He has seen his son take the mound in a Major League ballpark before, but this outing in downtown Phoenix was extra special for the Skubal family.

Normally, Russ would need to board an airplane to see Tarik pitch, but instead, he drove 194 miles from his home in Kingman, Ariz., in the morning. The town, with a population of roughly 35,000, is commonly used as a pit stop for travelers trekking between Las Vegas and Phoenix. It became home to the Skubals in 2006 when they moved from Fairfield, Calif.

"It's pretty cool to think that in high school, he used to play at the Diamondbacks' Spring Training facility," Russ said before the Tigers' 13-0 win over the D-backs. "Then to come watch games here and now he gets to pitch on the big boy mound. It's simply surreal."

For the first time in Tarik's Major League career, he pitched in the state where he graduated high school and developed into a young, promising hurler. He seized the moment by twirling six scoreless innings of one-hit baseball, striking out six batters and not allowing a baserunner until the fifth. He lowered his ERA to 1.80, the fifth lowest in MLB as he continues to add to his impressive 2024 campaign.

"I was probably a little more nervous for this start than I normally am," Skubal said. "Just because you want to put on a good performance in front of family and friends. And they want to see you succeed, too. I was probably a little amped up and a little more nervous, but it's all good things."

It helped that his offense backed him up with a season-high 17 hits. Seven of the nine batters in Detroit's starting lineup got a hit, and six batters recorded a multihit game. Colt Keith led the way with a career-high four hits and drove in two runs. Javier Báez had three hits for the first time this season and five RBIs.

But the 27-year-old dominated from the moment he took the mound. Five of Skubal's first seven outs came on groundouts and then the left-hander struck out six of his next eight batters. It wasn't just utilizing his five-pitch arsenal that guided him to a successful outing.

Fourteen of the outs Skubal recorded started with a first-pitch strike, a common trend for him. He has thrown a first-pitch strike to 71.9 percent of batters faced this season, which is third among all qualified pitchers.

"That was about as good as we've seen this year," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "That was really impressive."

Getting ahead of the count immediately attributes to Skubal's 31.9 percent whiff rate, the fifth-highest among qualified pitchers, and his 31.6 percent strikeout rate, the fifth-highest among qualified pitchers.

"They got into swing mode a little bit, and it's dangerous to do that against Tarik," Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. "When he made quality pitches early, he got some really early outs, and then he was electric at the end. It's so fun to watch him pitch because he doesn't take anything for granted. He brings his best stuff every time."

Skubal resides in Phoenix during the offseason, but Chase Field could have been his year-round home at one point. The D-backs selected him in the 29th round of the 2017 Draft while still at Seattle University, but Skubal didn't sign. Instead, he rewrote the record books with the Redhawks and eventually got picked in the ninth round the following year.

"I love where I'm at," Skubal said. "Everything in life happens for a reason. So I was drafted by this organization and they treated me really well and took care of me at every level throughout the Minor Leagues."

Skubal reminisced about the few memories he had made at Chase Field. He remembered being in the stands for Opening Day and feeling like a big league pitcher when he took the mound at Salt River Fields.

Sophomore Skubal wouldn't have believed he'd one day pitch at the stadium that helped his love for the game grow. But there he was, walking off the mound to a standing ovation composed heavily of the people who supported him as a young kid in Kingman.

"Tarik has always been a very intense competitor, no matter what it was," Russ said. "Baseball, basketball, whatever -- he's always just wanted to compete and wanting to just have a chance to win. That's who he's always been."