Tarik Skubal missed the first phone call from Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield on Saturday night. But he saw the text message from Littlefield saying to call him, and he knew what that usually meant.
The call to the Majors is one a player anticipates for years, but it isn’t one Skubal saw coming -- not yet anyway. He was surprisingly calm but admitted his heart was racing.
“It was kind of out of the blue. I didn’t really expect it, honestly, just because of where I was at,” Skubal said on a Monday afternoon video conference. “Getting built up and going through that throwing progression and stuff like that, I just didn’t really expect it. But it was great news regardless.”
The way the left-hander’s season was progressing before the coronavirus shutdown, a late summer call to the big leagues seemed destined. The former ninth-round Draft pick was one of the stars of Spring Training in Lakeland, Fla., and he had vaulted alongside Casey Mize and Matt Manning as the Tigers’ top pitching prospects. Then came a 103.7-degree fever, a COVID-19 diagnosis in June, the struggle to get healthy, then the time to test negative.
“COVID took me down a little bit,” Skubal said.
By the time Skubal was cleared to join the team, Summer Camp had ended, and he had seemingly missed his opportunity to get in line for a promotion. His dominance at Detroit’s alternate training site, with scouting reports from team officials and coaches, put him back into the picture. The combination of Iván Nova’s triceps tendinitis and the continued flux in Jordan Zimmermann’s old rotation spot created the opportunity.
The catch, not surprisingly, is pitch count. Skubal said he threw 46 pitches in his last intrasquad game in Toledo. Manager Ron Gardenhire isn’t putting a hard pitch count on him for his start Tuesday against the White Sox, but it’ll likely be similar to the three-inning starts Michael Fulmer has been providing, with Daniel Norris available as a piggyback.
“If he labors and has a big inning, we’re going to protect him, obviously,” Gardenhire said. “But this guy’s got good stuff. He was throwing the ball really good down there. We’re not going to kill him with pitches, I can promise you that. After we get past 40-something, 50-something, we’ll see where he’s at and how he’s doing. We’re not going to let him stretch out too awful much this time.”
General manager Al Avila added, “As long as he's pitching with the stuff he had down there, he'll be just fine.”
Work in progress
While Skubal and Mize received the call, the wait continues for Manning, who made a strong impression in Summer Camp but also showed points he could fine-tune. That work has progressed in Toledo.
“Manning needs a little bit more time,” Avila said. “He’s working on control and command, some mechanical tweaks. It’s a little bit longer with him now, as with [Alex] Faedo also.”
Avila hinted more call-ups could follow in the not-too-distant future, so Manning could still see an opportunity this season.
Avila talks Trade Deadline
While Avila was focused on his recently promoted prospects Monday, he’s also keeping an eye on the trade market ahead of this season’s Aug. 31 Deadline. It’s not moving quickly.
“There have already been some phone calls and text messages with a few clubs,” Avila said. “I would say it's tepid right now, but obviously we still have a ways to go and it might heat up a little bit more. I'm not really sure how it's going to go. I find it hard to believe in the environment that we’re in, that guys are going to be making a lot of trades and picking up high-salary guys. I don’t know, it just seems highly unlikely.
“However, I do still think that if a club can add a hitter or a pitcher and there’s a club that maybe has a guy that’s going to be a free agent at the end of the year, there might be a match there. There also might be matches to trade prospect for prospect. Obviously, you can only trade within the 60-man [player pool.”
Asked where the Tigers sit, Avila said, “I think right now it’s hard to call us buyers or sellers, to tell you the truth. We’re in a position that we’re still trying to win as many games as we can. We’d love to be in the playoffs this year, and we’re going to make some efforts to get there. But at the same time, we can’t lose sight of the future. We have to make sure that what we do today helps us as we move along.”
“We're going to have to figure out different ways,” he said. “And they will both get at-bats. I'm trying to use everybody. This is important that everybody gets out there and stays relatively close to competition, rather than sit the bench for three or four days. We’ll do the best we can.”
• Gardenhire said he and umpire Tim Timmons talked after their argument that led to the manager’s ejection Sunday.
“I understand what they’re talking about, and Timmy and I laughed about it after the fact,” Gardenhire said. “I wish he would’ve [got ejected], because he said some pretty rough things, and I loved every minute of it. That’s the entertaining part about knowing these guys.”