Skubal's debut a glimpse of what's to come

August 19th, 2020

’s Major League debut on Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field lasted two innings. His lesson lasted well longer than that.

His memories, even in a 10-4 Tigers loss to the White Sox, will last the rest of his life.

As Daniel Norris finished his first inning of relief, Skubal was still in the Tigers’ dugout. Pitching coach Rick Anderson was at his side, doing all the talking. It was reminiscent of the long talk manager Ron Gardenhire had with Spencer Turnbull after a rough start in Oakland last September. Unlike Turnbull that night, Skubal’s outing Tuesday was expected to be brief due to pitch count.

“We were just talking about what I did well, what I didn't do well, what I'm going to work on in between starts to get better,” Skubal said. “That's pretty much it.”

He’ll have plenty to lament that didn’t go well. His third Major League pitch ended up in the left-center field seats, courtesy of Tiger killer Tim Anderson. His first big league inning lasted 30 pitches, or about 60 percent of his expected pitch count.

“He was really throwing it,” Gardenhire said, “probably overthrowing just about everything. Those guys, they’re swinging really good. But it was a great experience for him.”

Skubal gave up three consecutive hits in what ended up being a three-run second inning, one coming on an 0-2 slider that Anderson seemingly anticipated, stepping up in the box as he crushed an RBI double at 107.6 miles an hour -- two mph harder than his 422-foot homer.

“It was a bad pitch. [On] 0-2, I’ve got to be better,” Skubal said. “Gotta get the ball down and in, out of the zone. I shouldn’t be throwing a strike right there. Obviously that’s not what I wanted to do, but that’s what happened. That’s one of the pitches I wish I could have back.”

There are a few pitches he’d like back. The one he’ll get to keep was his last of the night. As Norris warmed in the bullpen and Skubal neared his limit, he threw four offspeed pitches to cleanup hitter Eloy Jiménez. The first pitch, a curveball, is a pitch he created last winter at Driveline Baseball in Seattle, then polished in Spring Training in Lakeland, Fla.

“I went up [to Driveline] in January, got on the cameras and did a pitch design bullpen,” he said a day earlier. “I just kind of prioritized it, said I want to learn how to spin this pitch and learn how to really throw it.”

The next pitches were changeups, a pitch that deserted him early but improved. Jiménez took the first for a ball but fouled off the second for a 1-2 count.

Then came the slider, a pitch he didn’t have in college but credits Tigers Minor League pitcher Adam Wolf for teaching him after they both were drafted in 2018 -- Wolf in the fifth round, Skubal in the ninth.

“That’s become a good pitch for me and something I can rely on,” Skubal said.

That slider fared better than the one to Anderson. Jiménez swung and missed, one of six swinging strikes in Skubal’s outing.

With that, a lefty who rocketed through the farm system on the strength of a power fastball -- he topped out at 97 mph Tuesday as he escaped the first inning with one run allowed -- earned his first big league strikeout without a fastball in the at-bat against a future All-Star slugger.

“In talking with him, he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He knows what he wants to do,” catcher Austin Romine said. “He knows how he wants to attack. Maybe he didn’t feel like himself, but that goes with the whole debut thing.

“I mean, I saw some good stuff there. He’s got a really good arm from the left side, threw some really good pitches in there, has a great changeup, throws hard. We’re excited for the next one with him.”

That next outing likely won’t be any easier. If Gardenhire keeps his rotation in line as expected, Skubal will be on turn to pitch Sunday afternoon in Cleveland. Many a Tigers pitcher has had horror against an Indians offense that has a 20-game winning streak against Detroit, including a three-game series sweep last weekend at Comerica Park.

Castro leaves with hamstring strain
Adding to the agony of Detroit’s defeat, utilityman Harold Castro left Tuesday’s game with a left hamstring strain after he grounded out to end the top of the fourth inning. Victor Reyes replaced him in right field for the bottom of the inning.

Castro will undergo an MRI exam on Wednesday.