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'Proud of the way I competed:' Skubal strikes out 6 as Tigers lose to Phillies 2-0

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. – Tigers lefty Tarik Skubal and Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm have never faced each other in a big-league game, but they sure have some history.

Both drafted in 2018 – Bohm in round one, Skubal in round nine – they’ve gone at each other in rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League, in High-A and in Double-A.

“I’ve probably faced him 10 or 11 times in my pro career,” Skubal said. “Interesting, though, not in the big leagues yet.”

Tigers pitcher Tarik Skubal delivers a pitch during workouts Tuesday.

They had maybe their most memorable battle to date on Wednesday, in Clearwater, in the third inning of the Phillies 2-0 spring win over the Tigers. Hold the Bohn at-bat for a minute.

Skubal first had to contend with Bryce Harper.

With the game scoreless, Skubal walked the first two batters in the inning. After a sacrifice bunt, he was facing Harper with runners at second and third and one out, and in danger of yielding his first run of the spring.

Skubal got two quick strikes, using his new split-change-up and a slider.

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Harper worked the count even, then fouled off a splitter and a slider. Keep in mind that Skubal’s best pitch is the fastball, which was ringing 97 mph on the radar gun Wednesday. And even though he caught Harper looking at a fastball for strike three in the first inning, he wasn’t risking it in this situation.

“I’d rather live with him hitting a slider there,” Skubal said. “I got ahead of him with off-speed and I didn’t feel like he was seeing that well, so I kept going that way.”

Smart. He got Harper to chase a slider for strike three, which set up the encounter with Bohm.

“He always has long at-bats off me,” Skubal said.

This one went seven pitches. Skubal reacted with alarm after Bohm fouled off a 1-2 curveball.

“I thought I had him,” Skubal said. “He has really quick hands. His ability to foul that pitch of, I was like wow, good job.”

Bohm reacted with alarm, and anger, when Skubal knocked him off the plate with a 1-2 fastball at 97 mph. Skubal, who never diverted his glare toward catcher Wilson Ramos, came back with a slider that Bohm popped up to the right side of the infield. He slammed his bat in disgust while Skubal bounced back into the dugout.

“I was proud of the way I competed,” Skubal said. “Runners on second and third with one out, I was proud of the way I handled that.”

He punched-out six hitters in three innings, getting third strikes with four different pitches. He had a 43% whiff percentage on the day. In eight innings over three spring starts, he’s allowed no runs on four hits with 12 strikeouts.

"He's fun to watch," Tigers lefty Daniel Norris said of Skubal. "I think that's the biggest compliment in baseball...Skubal is fun to watch."

The only negative — and it's a nit-pick — he needed 70 pitches to get through those three innings. He had to cut his outing one inning short.

“That third inning was probably more valuable than going out for a fourth inning,” manager AJ Hinch said. “That Harper at-bat, hanging in with breaking balls. It would have been dangerous to throw fastball there. He just continued to go after him.

“For a young pitcher who not only is trying to make our team, but who is also trying to figure out his identity of when he can throw strikes and when he can chase strikeouts, he did a pretty good job of maintaining his composure in that situation.”

Fastball command is what caused his inefficiency.

“That part has to get better,” Skubal said. “It wasn’t great last time out either.”

He was leaving a lot of fastballs up on his arm side — in on left-handers and away to right-handers.

“I don’t know if that’s a simple fix or not,” he said. “I’ll go watch film and work on it. I need start down (in the zone) and then work up off that. It’s something I need to get back to doing a better job of. The fastball is my best pitch, so I can’t be spraying it like I was today and have good results.

“That’s not going to trend well for me.”

Everything else is, though. He got two strikeouts with his curveball, two with his slider and one each with his fastball and splitter.

“That is encouraging,” he said. “I threw lefty-on-lefty splitters (to Harper) for the first time in my life.”

Also, he said, throwing just one fastball in an eight-pitch at-bat was another thing he doesn’t think he’s ever done before — against a righty or lefty. It’s usually two or three, minimum.

“Every outing I want to do a good job mixing everything in,” he said. “Throwing things I’m not comfortable with, that’s where growth is made. Just being comfortable being uncomfortable, I guess.”

That’s kind what he’s been doing to hitters this spring.

Tigers pitcher Julio Teheran joins Michael Fulmer for a bullpen session in Lakeland, Fla.

ANOTHER STEP CLOSER

Julio Teheran, a non-roster invitee, took another positive step toward winning a rotation spot. He stuck seven in four scoreless, one-hit innings.

“He was excellent,” Hinch said. “He was the reverse of Tarik when it came to efficiency. He threw a ton of strikes and did just about anything he wanted to with the ball. The swing-and-misses were good, the command of the zone was good.

“He was real happy when he came back in the dugout and he should be. That was a pretty good performance.”

He needed just 53 pitches to cruise through four innings.

“He came into camp ready and willing to win a job,” Hinch said. “I’ve been very impressed with the athlete on the mound, the attention to detail, the way he pitches, the way he reads swings and bounces on and off the mound.

“He’s a pro’s pro … He hasn’t necessarily reinvented himself. I think he’s healthy and he feels good. I think he came in with a mindset to win a job and he’s getting pretty close to it.”

Pitcher Joe Jimenez warms up during spring training.

JIMENEZ STILL SEARCHING

Joe Jimenez gave up both runs on three hits and didn’t get out of the fourth inning. It was his second straight rough outing.

“It looks like he’s either not confident or not able to land his breaking ball very easily, and the hitters are picking up on that pretty early in his delivery,” Hinch said.

To that point. Jimenez threw eight sliders. Not one was swung at. The Phillies were sitting on his 93-mph fastball.

“Today I thought he threw with a little more conviction but the breaking ball wasn’t there,” Hinch said. “And he was a one-pitch pitcher. He’s got a couple more outings to get himself right. He’s got somethings to work on.”

AROUND THE HORN

…The Tigers signed veteran pitcher Wily Peralta to a minor-league deal in the offseason, but he still hasn’t been cleared to enter the country. Hinch said Wednesday he didn’t expect Peralta to arrive in time to compete for a roster spot. He will likely begin the season in minor-league camp.

Twitter@cmccosky