Skubal continues trend of struggling at Kauffman Stadium

May 22nd, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- has been nearly superhuman for the Tigers since Opening Day. When he gets to Kauffman Stadium, however, he has been mortal.

It’s a statistical kryptonite he has been aware of since well before his recent stretch of dominance. It was on his mind when he beat the Royals at Comerica Park on April 28.

“It's good to face this team at home, but hopefully the next time I face this team it's in Kauffman so I can rewrite that one too,” he said after that game. “They've kind of hit me around a little bit, and I don't like that.”

Skubal got his wish on Wednesday afternoon. But while he could count on a duel with fellow southpaw changeup artist Cole Ragans, he wasn’t counting on the Royals being on his changeup and fastball so well.

By the time the Tigers registered a hit on Ragans with a Riley Greene two-out single in the sixth, Skubal had thrown his final pitch, having allowed as many runs (four) over five innings as he had in his previous three starts this month combined. He was on his way to his first loss since last August, ending a 14-game unbeaten streak in which he was 10-0 with a 1.48 ERA. The Royals were on their way to a series sweep, sending the Tigers three games under .500 for the first time this year with an 8-3 loss.

It was the exclamation point on a statement series for the Royals, who never trailed, and whose home has become a horror lately for Skubal. He has 11 innings of one-run ball in the Royals’ last two visits to Detroit, but he’s 1-5 with a 6.14 ERA at Kauffman Stadium, easily his highest ERA of any division rival’s park.

Since posting seven-strikeout performances in two of his four appearances here in 2021 and 2022, Skubal has taken losses in his last three visits with 15 earned runs, including a career-high seven runs on eight hits last July in his third start back from flexor tendon surgery.

He doesn’t call it a statistical anomaly. But if he had an answer for the difference, he would’ve fixed it.

“You tell me. I don't know,” he said. “I felt like I made some quality pitches today. Stat line is a little misleading, I think. But that's part of baseball, too. I want to be great every time out, but that's just not the nature of the game. Sometimes you're going to get beat up a little bit.”

The sight of Skubal working on his middle finger with tweezers before the game, caught on the Bally Sports Detroit telecast, might have been a bad omen. Skubal, however, said that wasn’t the reason for his performance or pitch selection.

Whatever the reason, his command wasn’t quite as precise as it had been for most of this season. He walked just two of his 22 batters but faced a half-dozen three-ball counts, including four consecutive batters in a two-run, 31-pitch second inning.

“They had some really good at-bats, fouled off some really good pitches,” Skubal said. “Too many pitchers counts led to 3-2 counts, and that's a credit to their hitters. I have to do better at finishing those at-bats.”

Skubal’s fastball sat around 98 miles per hour in his opening inning, then wavered as he tried to spot the pitch, notably to his arm side -- in on lefties, outside on righties. He generated seven swinging strikes off his fastball, but just two called strikes. He actually drew more called strikes with his slider (five) than anything else.

“He did spray the ball a little bit more than usual,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “They also did a tremendous job of putting the ball in play when they needed to.”

Skubal’s changeup, the biggest reason right-handed hitters have struggled to hurt him this year, was seemingly a target at times for Royals hitters.

“They know it's his best pitch,” catcher Jake Rogers said. “He still got swing-and-miss on it, still got strikeouts with it. But sometimes they sit and get it. I think they did a better job today staying through that pitch.”

It happens. Ragans, as good as he looked Wednesday and for most of this season, has given up seven runs twice this season, tempering his season numbers. But to struggle here, against this opponent, is something that will sit with Skubal until the Tigers return in September.