One night after A.J. Hinch gave Casey Mize a chance to finish a complete-game loss to further his development, the Tigers’ manager had to pull the plug on Tarik Skubal's outing for similar reasons.
“There’s times it’s a rocky road when you develop at this level,” Hinch said after Friday’s 10-0 loss to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. “And we’re seeing it.”
Skubal’s first start in two weeks ended after three innings, three home runs and 77 pitches. Instead of heading to the showers, he stayed in the dugout and watched a long night get worse for a team that has lost three in a row over two nights in two cities by a combined 24-1 margin.
For someone who battled his way from a ninth-round Draft pick to a top prospect, it’s a new challenge. Skubal dominated hitters in 2019, his first full pro season, from Class A Advanced Lakeland to a star-studded rotation at Double-A Erie. He was a midseason callup last year in a pandemic-shortened season before making this year’s Opening Day rotation.
Now, it’s a flip from Spring Training, when Skubal dominated the Grapefruit League while Mize struggled through long innings before earning a rotation spot at the end. It’s also a reminder that developing pitchers isn’t always easy.
“He stayed on the bench a really long time,” Hinch said. “I know he reflects about a lot of things. He’s a deep thinker. He’s close with our guys. He asks a lot of questions. He doesn’t retreat into pout mode. I like that about him.
“I do think the compete button is good. We’ve got to keep working with him and keep encouraging him and keep correcting a few things along the way.”
What was already a rough matchup for Skubal against a righty-heavy Yankees lineup quickly compounded on him. Skubal, making his first start since April 15 after working as a piggyback reliever for two outings, showed many of the same issues that hampered him in his previous starts -- from high pitch counts to inconsistent command to an ill-fated splitter. All were exploited by a Yankees lineup that has had its own inconsistencies this year but still punishes mistakes.
“I just didn’t do a good job of executing pitches,” Skubal said, “throwing a lot of pitches, getting behind in counts.”
The home runs off Skubal included a 436-foot drive to center from Aaron Judge off a fastball Skubal wanted up and in but left over the middle, and a 420-foot drive to left by Aaron Hicks. Both were in the third inning.
Skubal’s trouble started in the first inning on a Giancarlo Stanton double with a 115.7 mph exit velocity, setting Stanton up to score on a Gio Urshela single. The inning would’ve been worse had Gleyber Torres’ ensuing 404-foot drive cleared the center-field fence, instead dying at the track.
Add in Clint Frazier’s second-inning solo homer, a line drive to left with a 106.7 mph exit velocity, and Skubal finished with an average exit velocity of 100.4 mph off his fastball, a pitch that was averaging an 88.5 mph exit velocity this season. His 10 splitters drew three swings, no misses, one called strike and one home run. He drew six swings and misses out of 77 total pitches, 47 for strikes.
“When you’re not commanding offspeed, obviously, they can start teeing off on fastballs,” Skubal said.
For the Tigers, working on short rest and having arrived at their New York hotel around 4:30 a.m. ET, the Yankees’ early onslaught furthered a long night. Judge added a grand slam off Buck Farmer, and Rougned Odor greeted Tyler Alexander with a leadoff homer in the fifth to put the Yankees into double digits. By then, Gerrit Cole was cruising on his way to six scoreless innings and 12 strikeouts, including six in a row from the second inning into the fourth.
Again, the bigger concern has to be Skubal, for whom the home run has been a lingering issue. He has allowed eight in 22 innings this year after yielding nine in 32 innings last year. Hinch said he and pitching coach Chris Fetter haven’t decided whether Skubal will start next Thursday against Boston at Fenway Park or the next night at Comerica Park against Minnesota. But he’ll keep starting.
“It’s all part of the process of a full season,” Skubal said. “I’ll learn from it and watch some video and see what I take away. But it’s always a learning lesson. It’s never a step back.”