Skubal showcases 'off-the-charts' stuff in another dominant start

April 23rd, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- Tigers left-hander made it look easy Monday night. It was pitch-and-catch, a master class, as dominant of an early season performance that you could witness.

After the Tigers wrapped up a 7-1 victory against the Rays at Tropicana Field, in which Skubal allowed just three hits (a single in each of the first, second and fourth innings) while striking out nine and walking none in six scoreless innings, the reaction from the Detroit clubhouse was part-admiration, part-awe.

“The stuff is off-the-charts good,’’ manager A.J. Hinch said. “His work ethic is top-notch. His competitiveness is good. He was in total command.’’

“I mean, it’s like cruise control,’’ catcher Jake Rogers said. “It’s fun to catch back there. You [call any pitch] and he’s going to hit it at the spot.’’

“You can just tell when the other team has all those swing and misses and awkward swings,’’ left fielder Mark Canha said. “[The Rays] just looked uncomfortable. It becomes very evident very quickly. We got him a little lead and he’s pitching downhill. It’s just a good combo for us.’’

Skubal (3-0, 1.82 ERA), whose velocity consistently touched in the high 90s (including a 99.7 mph four-seam fastball on his 36th pitch and a 98.6 mph sinker on his 74th pitch of 86 total), went to ball three on just three of the 20 batters he faced. After allowing a first-inning leadoff single to Amed Rosario, Skubal retired 17 of the next 19 Rays batters before turning it over to the bullpen.

“For a team that’s trying to get their offense going, which we are, he’s probably not the guy that you want to face,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s really good stuff. Pretty electric fastball, and then the mix off the other pitches. But everything goes off the fastball. It’s very, ‘Here it is … hit it.’ And we didn’t do that tonight.’’

Skubal said he felt confident and comfortable.

“I thought my mix was pretty good,’’ Skubal said. “I felt like I was pretty aggressive. I felt like I was getting ahead of guys. I was able to execute some pitches and [Rogers], the way his glove is back there, everything was like a strike. He does a great job.’’

Skubal also benefited from an aggressive offense, which constantly forced the action and looked to take the extra base. The Tigers, on an 11-hit attack, got solo home runs from Canha (on the game’s third pitch from Zack Littell) and Parker Meadows (a Statcast-projected 427-foot shot to center field in the sixth inning).

Canha was 3-for-4, including a fifth-inning RBI single. Meanwhile, Kerry Carpenter contributed a seventh-inning double that gave him an RBI in seven straight games, matching the streak that Miguel Cabrera last compiled by a Tigers player in 2013.

The Tigers surged ahead 3-0 with a two-run second inning as Javier Báez provided a run-scoring single and scored on Rogers' knock. Rays shortstop José Caballero fielded Rogers’ ball deep in the hole, spun and delivered a perfect one-hop throw to first baseman Yandy Díaz, who dropped it. It was scored a single and Caballero’s error allowed Báez to score from second base.

The Tigers broke a five-game losing streak at the Trop, where they haven’t won a series since 2016. This season, the Tigers (13-10 overall) are 9-3 on the road. When Skubal got the three-run cushion, it was more than enough.

“When he’s dominant in the strike zone and he gets them in swing mode and you give him a [three-run lead in the second inning], it gives him a leash to pitch aggressively to the strike zone,’’ Hinch said. “You look up and there are a ton of strikes. This is a team you wanted to attack. You get a comfortable lead and a couple of good defensive plays behind him, it gave him some freedom to pitch the way he does.’’