Skubal (5-0) reminiscent of Verlander with triple-digit heat

Tigers lefty unbeaten in 13 straight starts since 2023, hits 100 mph for 1st time in MLB career

May 12th, 2024

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander has not followed 's career. He knows of the Detroit left-hander. He pulls for his old club and its young players, but admittedly has tunnel vision.

“I’m always rooting for the guys and the organization,” Verlander said on Friday, “except when we play against them.”

So before Verlander makes another start against his original club on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park, he got to spend Saturday night watching Skubal, whose blossoming form has started to draw comparisons.

Whether the comps are fair or not, as Verlander watched Skubal work through the Astros’ lineup for 6 1/3 innings of two-run ball and seven strikeouts in the Tigers’ 8-2 win, Verlander would’ve been excused if certain moments gave him flashbacks to his first few years at Comerica Park, from the fiery competitiveness to the power fastball.

Skubal’s dominant stuff, while different from Verlander, is evident. When he threw 100 mph fastballs twice to Yainer Diaz in the second inning, Skubal not only hit triple digits for the first time in his Major League career, according to Statcast, but he also became the first Tigers starter to hit triple digits since Verlander in 2012. Verlander registered 100 mph regularly, early in his career, before Statcast began tracking in 2015.

“I’ve always joked about doing it once in my career,” Skubal said. “It’s not like I’m trying. It’s not the only thing I’m thinking about. I’m obviously thinking about elevating a fastball. But yeah, I think it’s pretty cool.”

Skubal’s power set up a changeup that flummoxed Houston hitters with six swinging strikes and six others called.

With that stuff came signs of where Skubal is maturing. Just when the Astros turned aggressive in a two-run fourth inning -- a rally he might have struggled to limit earlier in his career -- he halted the damage. When Houston threatened again in the fifth, Skubal sandwiched a changeup in between 97 and 98 mph fastballs to fan Alex Bregman, who had hit his changeup for an RBI single an inning earlier.

And when Skubal returned to the dugout after the fourth, clearly frustrated as he covered his mouth with his glove, he avoided any outward frustration as he has done on some past occasions. He marched down the steps to the clubhouse to reflect, then emerged a couple minutes later.

“I was just upset with myself, more so mentally, didn’t do a good job staying locked in pitch by pitch,” Skubal said. “I let some outside factors come into my brain.”

Verlander has been there. He remembers someone telling him early in his career that his starts sometimes looked like a side session, because he’d angrily throw the same pitch over and over until he got it right.

“I had great stuff,” Verlander said, “but learned how to pitch as I went along. I always heard old pitchers say, ‘I wish I knew then what I know now.’ And I was like, ‘Well, what do you mean? You have all the information you want.’ Well, I feel the same way now. It’s just like in any walk of life.”

Tigers manager A.J. Hinch, who also managed Verlander for three years in Houston, bristles at the comparisons. But he gets the anticipation of Skubal’s potential.

“One thing all the kind of high-end Major League pitchers do,” Hinch said, “is they just stack good outing after good outing. Like, there’s very little variance. You don’t see the highest end of pitchers at this level disappear for stretches. They also evolve, and I think the challenge for Tarik is he’s going to get more and more exposure, and more and more teams are going to try to stack against his weaknesses.

"And more and more teams are going to try to do something different. They’re not just going to keep wearing it.”

Skubal is stacking success. He’s the first Tigers starter to go 5-0 to open a season since Jordan Zimmermann in 2016. Skubal is unbeaten in his last 13 starts since a loss on Aug. 29, 2023, the longest unbeaten stretch by a Tigers starter since Max Scherzer went unbeaten in 19 starts from October 2012 to July 2013.

Skubal has held opponents to two earned runs or fewer in seven of his eight starts, and has tossed at least six innings in all but one.

“It’s like watching one of the best pitchers in the world right now,” said Kerry Carpenter, whose two-homer game gave Skubal a comfortable lead along with Mark Canha’s grand slam in a seven-run second. “We get an up-close and personal view of it.”