Skubal 'optimistic' after fatigue forces early exit

August 2nd, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- The sight of the Twins sending the Tigers to another walk-off loss is becoming all too familiar. So is the sight of another Detroit pitcher leaving with an injury concern.

In the case of staff ace and potential trade candidate Tarik Skubal, however, the sight of the lefty walking down the dugout steps and into the clubhouse after his fifth inning in Monday’s eventual 5-3, 10-inning loss to the Twins at Target Field was a roller coaster of emotions.

Skubal is the only pitcher among the Tigers’ crop of top pitching prospects from their rebuild to have blossomed into a front-line starter so far. He also has been a wild card in the starting pitching market leading into Tuesday’s Trade Deadline, in part because the Tigers need help. So, any sight of Skubal leaving Monday’s game early was bound to raise eyebrows.

This one, after five scoreless innings and 77 pitches, raised panic levels. After he retired Jorge Polanco to strand a runner on third and end the fifth, he walked down the steps and into the clubhouse with very little discussion.

The Tigers announced later that he exited with left arm fatigue.

“Tarik came in after the fifth and just said he was gassed. He felt fatigued,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He didn't feel like he could let it go. So as soon as he said that, I took him out of the game right away with [Will] Vest. We took him inside."

Skubal seemed in control for most of his outing, mixing sinkers, sliders and changeups. However, his fastball velocity dipped slightly as his outing went on, a normal sign of fatigue but an early stage of the game for it by his standards.

“I thought my stuff was good. I threw the ball well. Something didn’t feel right. My arm felt kind of fatigued,” Skubal said. “That’s why I came out of the game when I did. … I don’t want to put myself at risk of something serious happening, so that’s why I was kind of like, ‘Guys, that’s kind of it today. That’s all I’ve got.'

“Five innings, I put the bullpen in a bad spot, especially when they’ve been so good. It’s kind of my fault in that situation, too. But that’s kind of all I’ve got to say about that."

Vest’s perfect sixth inning began a procession of Tigers relievers, including several potential trade pieces. Joe Jiménez gave up a Nick Gordon double but tossed a scoreless seventh, including a 96-mph fastball for a called third strike on Tim Beckham. Michael Fulmer, a soon-to-be free agent who’s expected to be traded somewhere on Tuesday, struck out Mark Contreras looking in the eighth before giving up four consecutive singles and the lead with them. Closer Gregory Soto entered in a tie game in the eighth and covered five outs before Gio Urshela hit a walk-off homer off Alex Lange in the 10th.

Notably absent was left-hander Andrew Chafin, who was reinstated from the restricted list before the game, but never warmed up. He, too, has been the subject of trade discussions, with the Mets believed to be among interested suitors. Hinch said Chafin would have pitched the 11th inning had the game continued.

The walk-off loss was the Tigers’ seventh against the Twins since 2020, the most by any team against another in that span.

The bigger concern for the Tigers, obviously, is Skubal.

"I'm going to wake up tomorrow and kind of see where I'm at and then go from there,” he said. “But my plan is to make my next start, assuming that I'm feeling good, which I'm pretty optimistic about that."

Skubal is the only member of Detroit’s Opening Day rotation who hasn’t been on the injured list this season. While the Tigers lost Casey Mize to Tommy John surgery and Eduardo Rodriguez, Matt Manning, Tyler Alexander, Michael Pineda and others to various injuries and issues, Skubal has made his scheduled start every turn through the rotation.

With the starting pitching market thin, the Tigers have been willing to listen to trade interest on Skubal, who has four more seasons after this year before free agency. However, Detroit has set a high price, believed to include multiple top prospects as part of a larger package.

Any injury, even fatigue, would understandably dampen trade interest for a young southpaw who has yet to top 150 innings in a season. He currently sits at 117 2/3 innings over 21 starts.