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Skubal dazzles in Battle of the Rookies

@beckjason
September 16, 2020

DETROIT -- The 18th and 255th overall picks in the 2018 MLB Draft looked like American League Central aces in the making as they shared the mound at Comerica Park on Wednesday night, even if Brady Singer and Tarik Skubal weren’t trying to worry about each other. “He's really talented,”

DETROIT -- The 18th and 255th overall picks in the 2018 MLB Draft looked like American League Central aces in the making as they shared the mound at Comerica Park on Wednesday night, even if Brady Singer and Tarik Skubal weren’t trying to worry about each other.

“He's really talented,” Skubal said. “I remember hearing about him in college, but I never saw him live like I did tonight.”

They entered pro ball through opposite paths on opposite corners of the country. While Singer was briefly in the Tigers’ conversation for the top overall Draft pick at the University of Florida, Skubal fell to Detroit’s ninth-round selection coming off Tommy John surgery at Seattle University. If they can build off their respective performances in Wednesday’s 4-0 Tigers loss to the Royals, they’ll be division rivals worth watching for the next several years.

Box score

“You’re seeing a lot of young pitchers get to take the mound. And we like it,” Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I mean, this is what we were waiting for. We enjoy seeing these kids pitch, [Casey] Mize and Skubs. That’s pretty important for this organization going forward, and a lot of teams are doing the same thing because of how this season’s going.”

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Mize, the top pick in that Draft, will get his chance opposite Indians ace and AL Cy Young Award favorite Shane Bieber on Thursday. They’ll have a hard time topping the show Singer and Skubal put together, spoiled only by Salvador Perez’s two-run home run and RBI double.

Six days after Singer took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning in Cleveland, he retired Detroit’s first 10 batters on his way to six scoreless innings, including a near-immaculate opening inning. This time, however, he had to trade zeros with Skubal, who showed the lights-out stuff that vaulted him from Detroit’s ninth-round pick in 2018 to No. 46 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list this summer.

Both racked up eight strikeouts. While Skubal allowed four hits, Singer allowed two, plus a walk. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it marked the first time two rookie pitchers fanned eight or more batters with one or no walks apiece since June 22, 2016, when Oakland’s Daniel Mengden and Milwaukee’s Junior Guerra racked up nine and eight strikeouts, respectively.

Skubal nearly had Perez struck out in the first inning, barely missing the inside corner with a 1-2 fastball. He tried to change the All-Star’s eye level, but the high fastball was low enough for Perez to send over the left-field fence.

“He threw a really good pitch, 1-2, that was borderline,” catcher Eric Haase said. “Normally the M.O. after that is some kind of soft pitch away. We tried to go back in, just caught more of the plate than what we were hoping for there.”

It was a tough price to pay for Skubal establishing his fastball early. But once he did, he struck out six of Kansas City’s next 10 batters, including cleanup hitter Maikel Franco twice and Hunter Dozier on a 96 mph fastball.

Skubal (1-3) didn’t face a three-ball count after Whit Merrifield worked a full count to lead off the game. He fanned Nicky Lopez on three sliders to end the fifth inning and earn his career-high seventh strikeout. Once Singer overcame a walk for a scoreless fifth, the two had combined for 14 strikeouts, 26 swings and misses and several reactions from frustrated hitters.

“We didn't have a lot of great at-bats off of [Singer],” Gardenhire said. “He did well. Just make sure you understand, our guy threw the ball pretty doggone good, too."

Skubal became the second Tiger to strike out eight or more batters with no walks in one of his first six career outings, according to research on baseball-reference. Schoolboy Rowe was the other, fanning nine Indians over eight innings on April 21, 1933. But just as Rowe couldn’t match Cleveland’s Oral Hildebrand that day in a 5-0 shutout, Singer never let Skubal get back into Wednesday’s game.

“You tip your cap to that kid. He threw the heck out of the ball,” Gardenhire said of Singer.

Singer (3-4) made his second Major League start at Comerica Park on July 30, tossing five innings with two solo homers, but his fastball-slider combination wasn’t nearly as devastating as it was Wednesday. Only a Miguel Cabrera foul ball kept him from an immaculate inning in the first; he struck out the side on 10 pitches, all strikes. He fanned two more Tigers to begin the second before former Royal Jorge Bonifacio flew out on the first pitch he saw to end the second, then caught Alcántara looking to end a perfect third.

Not until Willi Castro’s bloop single with one out in the fourth did the Tigers have a baserunner. Jeimer Candelario’s two-out infield single provided Detroit’s lone runner in scoring position before Niko Goodrum grounded out to end the threat.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.