Tigers' offense stifled by Royals rookie, quality start by Tarik Skubal wasted
Detroit – They were separated by 237 picks in the 2018 draft. There wasn’t nearly that much separation Wednesday night.
Tigers lefty Tarik Skubal, a ninth-round pick out of Seattle University, went nearly pitch for pitch with Royals right-hander Brady Singer, the 18th overall pick in 2018 out of Florida. The difference between the two, essentially, was one batter – Salvador Perez.
Perez knocked in three runs and the Royals beat the Tigers 4-0 at Comerica Park.
"A lot of things are different in baseball this year," said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire when asked about the unlikely scenario that unfolded Wednesday, a pitcher's duel between two players with less than two years of professional experience. "We're seeing a lot of young pitchers getting to take the mound this year.
"But this is what we were waiting for. We enjoy seeing these kids pitch. It's pretty important for this organization going forward and a lot of other teams are doing the same thing."
Perez clubbed his sixth home run of the year, a two-run shot in the first inning. It came after an error by third baseman Sergio Alcantara and on the 15th straight fastball Skubal threw to start the game.
"The pitch before I thought I punched him out looking," said Skubal, who didn't get a borderline call on the 1-2 fastball. "It was called a ball, so I make another pitch and he runs it out of the yard."
Skubal struck out Perez in the third inning, throwing him three straight change-ups. But with Whit Merrifield on second in the fifth inning, Skubal tried to beat him again with a change-up. Perez lashed into right-center for an RBI double.
"My focus wasn't on what it should've been there," Skubal said. "I left the change-up up and he crushed it."
But that was the only damage against Skubal (three runs, two earned). He struck out a career-best eight over six innings with no walks.
"He's most effective when he's forcing other teams to respect the fastball," said catcher Eric Haase, the Dearborn Divine Child product making his first start for the Tigers. "The next inning he starting mixing in his breaking balls and his change-up was really good.
"He made two mistakes against a veteran, really good hitter and unfortunately, that was the difference in the ballgame. But he threw the ball really well tonight."
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Featuring mostly a four-seam fastball (94-98 mph) and a change-up, Skubal got 17 swings-and-misses and 15 called strikes out of his 90 pitches. And this coming off one of his worst starts, giving up six runs in two innings at St. Louis.
"My emphasis between starts was just, I felt I wasn't getting behind the ball in my last start and I was coming off everything," he said. "I just tried to stay on top and get out over my front side. I felt like I did that pretty well tonight."
Singer bested him, though. He shut the Tigers out for six innings on two hits, also striking out eight.
"He has good stuff," Gardenhire said. "He has a quick arm coming from a kind of slow delivery and, poof, the ball gets on you quick. We had a hard time with him, obviously. Our guy was pretty good, too. We liked what we saw there. He gave us an opportunity to win a ballgame.
"But you can't win with just two hits."
After coming within four outs of throwing a no-hitter in Cleveland in his last start, Singer dispatched the first 10 Tigers he faced Wednesday, striking out six of them. Willi Castro and Jeimer Candelario, the two hottest-hitting Tigers, scratched him for singles in the fourth, but nothing came of it.
A fifth-inning walk to Haase was the only other base runner against Singer, who has thrown 14 straight shutout innings for the Royals.
"He moved his fastball around and had some sink to it," Haase said. "He kept us off-balance all night. If we were looking out over the plate, he'd run it in on us."
The Royals tacked on a run in the eighth off reliever Gregory Soto, whose wounds were mostly self-inflicted. After two infield singles, he failed to hold the runners. Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi swiped third and second base, respectively.
Merrifield scored on a wild pitch.
The Tigers didn't put another runner on base after Haase's walk. Between Singer and three relievers (Jesse Hahn, Scott Barlow and Greg Holland), the last 14 hitters were set down.