Skubal reaches 101.7 mph in 'electric' 10-K performance

June 9th, 2024

DETROIT -- Considering the dream season has been having, he would’ve been excused for rubbing his eyes when he saw the velocity reading on his 0-2 fastball to Rhys Hoskins in the third inning of Sunday’s 10-2 win over the Brewers.

One-oh-one point seven.

“That was surprising to me, too,” Skubal said. “I went to throw it hard. I was trying to blow him away. But, yeah, I was surprised.”

Hoskins’ foul ball gave Skubal a second to process. He looked to the Tigers dugout to see if it was legit. His teammate and good friend, Casey Mize, gave him a big smile and a thumbs-up.

“I think Tarik looked over to see if it was real,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He looked to the dugout and I looked right to [pitching coach Chris] Fetter, and he was like, ‘Oh, God.’

“That was electric.”

Skubal had just crossed a 100 mph fastball off his career bucket list a month ago. Now with 101.7, he has the fastest pitch this season by a Major League starter not named Paul Skenes, who hit 101.9 mph in his MLB debut for the Pirates on May 11. Skubal also tied Bruce Rondon for the hardest pitch by a Tiger since Statcast began tracking in 2015 -- Rondon hit 101.7 on July 18 of that year against the Orioles.

“I can’t really tell the difference,” catcher Jake Rogers joked.

Velocity wasn’t the reason Skubal dominated the Brewers for 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball on Sunday. It wasn’t even why he retired Hoskins, who popped out on a changeup four pitches later to end the inning. But it was a microcosm to how far the left-hander has come from his rise from former ninth-round Draft pick to a legitimate ace and early American League Cy Young Award candidate.

The Brewers had tormented Tigers pitching for two games with a mix of tough at-bats, skillful contact hitting and aggressive baserunning. Skubal never gave them a chance to get going. He struck out the side in order in the first inning, allowed just two runners into scoring position through his first six innings and didn’t allow a run until Detroit had a double-digit lead.

That ability to shape momentum is the stuff of an ace.

“I think his stuff was the best I’ve seen,” Brewers manager Pat Murphy said. “That was electric stuff with life. His changeup was hard to recognize, obviously. And his fastball was really, really good. Man, he’s feeling it, and he’s really good. That kid on the mound was really good.”

The closest the Brewers came to rallying against Skubal was on self-inflicted damage. He lost Willy Adames and Gary Sánchez to consecutive walks with one out in the fourth and was struggling to finish off Jackson Chourio with runners at the corners and two outs. At one point, he was pleading with plate umpire Clint Vondrak for the outside corner.

Chourio connected with Skubal’s 99 mph fastball and laced a line drive to left. Riley Greene, who has tempered his penchant for all-out dives from earlier in his career, read the ball and went airborne.

Greene later took away extra bases for Skubal in the seventh, while center fielder Matt Vierling robbed a homer for reliever Joey Wentz in the eighth. But the timing of Greene’s first catch -- the one off the bat of Chourio -- in what was then a 2-0 game made it all the more important.

Just as Skubal picked up the Tigers, they returned the favor.

“I’m a big fan of momentum,” Greene said.

The Tigers have momentum when Skubal (8-1) is on the mound. By the time Brice Turang’s seventh-inning RBI triple put the Brewers on the board, the Tigers were well on their way to ending a three-game losing streak and avoiding a series sweep.

Skubal dropped his ERA from 1.97 to 1.92, the lowest for a Tiger through his first 13 starts in a season since Al Benton (0.99) and Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser (1.83) in 1945. Skubal’s 0.89 WHIP and .236 opponents on-base percentage led qualified AL starters as of Sunday afternoon, while he ranked third in strikeouts, ERA and opponents batting average.

Now he has a velo ranking to go with it.

“He’s incredible,” Rogers said. “There’s no other words for it. He’s been incredible this year.”