Tarik Skubal was ready to report to Tigers Summer Camp with lofty goals, having made a big impression in Spring Training. He had built off that by working on pitch design with a Rapsodo machine back home in Arizona during baseball’s shutdown. He had limited his contact with people in an effort to stay safe. He was ready to take his place in line among Detroit’s top pitching prospects.
Then he contracted COVID-19.
“Right before I was going to get on a flight, I think the week before everything came out that baseball was going to restart and we were going to go to Detroit, I tested positive for COVID,” Skubal said on a Saturday video conference. “I had pretty much all the symptoms.”
He also had some of the worst of them. For a 23-year-old athlete with no underlying conditions, it was a wake-up call for how seriously this virus can affect young people.
“I think the third or fourth day, it did get scary,” Skubal said. “My fever spiked to 103.7. That's the hottest I've ever felt in my entire life. It did get scary that night. I’ve never felt like that before.”
His fever abated quickly afterward, but it took about two weeks from the time he developed symptoms before he felt normal enough to start moving around and begin a routine. Even then, his energy level was a concern.
He needed another week to go through the testing protocols and test negative twice. By the time he was cleared to join the Tigers’ player pool, Summer Camp was over. He has spent the last couple of weeks in Toledo building back up and was scheduled to throw two innings in an intrasquad game Saturday at Fifth Third Field, his first game action since Spring Training in March.
Like many, he has had to adjust his expectations and goals for this season. What looked like a potential path to a Major League debut this summer in a 162-game season is now a summer to focus on development.
Having gone through the virus, he keeps it in perspective.
“I didn’t know any of my friends of family, or their friends, that had the virus. And I was like, ‘This thing is spreading, but it didn’t feel real.’ And when I got it, I was like, ‘Yeah, this thing is real,’” Skubal said. “You need to take every precaution and social distance and wear a mask.
“If they say it helps, then I’m going to do it. Because I had it, and it wasn’t fun. It’s a very serious situation. I’m lucky [that] when I got it, I’m 23 years old and I don’t have an underlying health deficiency. Take it seriously. I try not to do much. I go to the apartment, maybe go to the grocery store to get some food and bring it back here, but I always wear a mask, always have hand sanitizer. Because this is serious.”
Gardenhire not panicking about Boyd
Matthew Boyd induced more swinging strikes from Pirates hitters in the fifth inning Friday night (six) than he did in his first four innings combined. He needed one more.
Twice, Boyd was ahead in two-strike counts with two outs and a chance to end the fifth inning with a lead. Bryan Reynolds fouled off a fastball, slider and changeup before singling on a fastball to continue the frame. Phillip Evans shrugged off an 0-2 slider in the dirt and fouled off a high fastball to stay alive for one of Boyd's worst pitches of the night.
“He just hung a slider there at the end,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I think if he buried that ball in the dirt, he probably would’ve got that guy.”
The resulting three-run homer ended Boyd’s outing with seven runs on eight hits over 4 2/3 innings, raising his earned-run average to 9.20. He entered Saturday leading American League pitchers in hits (23) and earned runs (15) allowed.
Five of the seven runs Friday came on homers, both off sliders, a pitch Boyd used for seven swings and misses Friday.
“Both of them I tried to overthrow a little bit, instead of just trusting it and letting it play as I did to the hitters prior to it,” Boyd said.
Asked if there’s any worry, Gardenhire said, “I’m not a panicking type of guy. I know that he’s our No. 1 pitcher. That’s why I left him out there, and he ended up giving up another three-run homer. But I still believe in this guy a whole lot, that he can make pitches.”