Lakeland, Fla. — The question was meant to get manager Ron Gardenhire talking about lefty pitching prospect Tarik Skubal, who struck out five of the six batters he faced Friday in the Tigers' 5-4 win in the annual Grapefruit League tune-up against NAIA Southeastern University.
But he took it in another direction.
"You want to talk about the good?" he said. "The good is the game is over and we're not freezing anymore. It was frickin' cold out there."
It was not pleasant by central Florida standards — 54 degrees, blustery winds, mist. But none of that bothered Skubal, the No. 4 ranked prospect in the Tigers’ system (No. 2 in The Detroit News rankings).
"It wasn't that cold," he said. "I've played in a lot colder weather. A lot colder."
Maybe, but he was on the mound and in the elements for maybe five minutes total. He got the ball, worked fast and threw strikes. Eighteen of his 22 pitches were strikes. His fastball, which topped out at 98 mph, was steady at 95-96 and he got swings-and-misses with all three of his secondary pitches — curveball, slider and one change-up.
"There were some nerves, yeah, but I just wanted to fill up the zone and throw a lot of strikes and execute pitches," Skubal said. "Just try to control what I could control out there. I think I did a good job of that."
After the first batter grounded out to third, Skubal fanned the next five. And he came within a strike of throwing an immaculate inning (nine pitches, nine strikes) in the second.
"Yeah I knew," he said. "That curveball I threw high was the worst place I could've thrown it. I'd rather have spiked it. But I did know. Just didn't have a grip on it and left it up."
He struck out the first two hitters on six pitches. He went slider, curveball, fastball (97) to strike out the first batter. Slider, fastball (98) and fastball (97) to fan the second hitter. Then he got two strikes on the third hitter with a slider and a change-up before missing high with a curve.
He came back with another curve and got the strikeout.
"I felt good," he said. "I felt like I was really connected and I felt really fluid down the mound. I felt like I was going down the mound the way I want to."
As Skubal was doing his thing, Gardenhire was motioning toward general manager Al Avila, who was seated behind home plate. He was playfully pointing to himself, as if to say, let him come north with us.
Avila laughed and waved him off. The plan is for Skubal, along with the Tigers three other top pitching prospects — Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo — to start the season at Triple-A Toledo.
"His pace is good — he just stands on the mound waiting," Gardenhire said. "Why wouldn't you? If you've got that kind of stuff, I think I'd be standing there waiting, too. He's got good stuff and he's composed.
"From all the reports I've seen and all the people telling me I'm really going to like this guy — he's a pretty professional kid with great stuff."
Daniel Pinero, who hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth, has an interesting back story.
His father played professional baseball in Cuba before moving to Russia to study. He married a Russian woman, lived with her in both Russia and Cuba, before emigrating to Toronto, Canada, where Daniel was born and raised.
Pinero speaks both Spanish and English, he's playing all four infield positions this spring and he bears a striking resemblance to Faedo. In fact, earlier in camp, Gardenhire confused the two.
"Yeah, it's crazy — we do look a lot alike," said Pinero, who will turn 26 in May and is likely to start the season at Triple-A Toledo. "It is what it is. I carry a bat around now so there's no confusion."
Pinero, whose bat will be his ticket to the big leagues, came to the plate with runners on first and second and no outs in the ninth. His approach in that situation wasn't typical for a young player looking to get noticed.
"I faced him the first time and he had a slider he liked to throw a lot," he said. "I just wanted to go the other way and try to get the runners over with one out any way I could.
"But, walk-offs are always fun."
His unselfish approach was rewarded with a line drive to the gap in right-center field.
Cold and sloppy
The four runs Southeastern scored were unearned off two Tigers' errors.
Right-hander Rony Garcia, whom the Tigers took with the first pick of the Rule 5 draft in December, ran into some control issues in the fourth inning and allowed a pair of unearned runs. Southeastern loaded the bases with no outs on two singles and a walk.
First baseman Brandon Dixon then booted a ground ball by Southeastern’s Abdel Guadalupe, allowing the two runs to cross.
Another error, this one by shortstop Sergio Alcantara, allowed two more runs to score in the sixth. Non-roster invitee Gerson Moreno walked the first two batters he faced and threw a wild pitch to put them in scoring position.
"We missed a couple plays and they scored some runs — that's what we've been preaching here," Gardenhire said. "We've got to catch the ball and get the outs we're supposed to."
The Tigers didn't do much offensively. Dawel Lugo rapped a two-out, two-run single n the fifth. And non-roster invitee and former Royals first baseman Frank Schwindel lined a two-run double into the wind to the wall in left in the sixth.
The Tigers will host the Phillies Saturday at Publix Field in the Grapefruit League opener. Jordan Zimmermann will start for the Tigers, Nick Pivetta for the Phillies.