Tigers' young pup Tarik Skubal shows flashes, collars Blue Jays over 5 innings

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Dunedin, Fla. — What the Tigers have in Tarik Skubal is akin to what dog-owners have in their new pedigreed puppy.

A lot of work ahead. And a lot of fun watching as some blessed DNA takes over and creates a certain, well, magnificence.

Tigers starting pitcher Tarik Skubal tossed five innings Sunday, allowing one run on three hits and a walk. He struck out three.

Skubal has the physical stuff down. He affirmed as much Sunday at TD Ballpark, where he worked five innings against the Blue Jays. He allowed a lone run, three hits, and one walk, all while striking out three in what turned out to be a nine-inning, 4-4 tie, after Toronto scored three runs in the ninth against Beau Burrows.

Skubal threw a few too many pitches: 77, 46 of which were strikes. He allowed three-ball counts to five batters.

But this is the paper-training stage in a puppy’s, er, pitcher’s development, which was a reminder passed on afterward by his manager, AJ Hinch.

"Yeah, I think he’s going to be something,” Hinch said. “He’s not a perfect pitcher right now. But he’s got plus stuff, and when he pitches ahead (in the count), it’s a completely different at-bat for the hitter. They have to deal with a lot.”

So does the pitcher’s master, er, manager.

“We don’t need him to be perfect,” Hinch said of a 24-year-old starter who throws left-handed, and who has a body that’s well-crafted at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. “We’re developing a young pitcher for the big leagues. That’s going to come with some imperfect characteristics.

“But overall, the package is legit, and I think he’s going to help us a lot.”

Skubal’s pitch-parcel Sunday spoke loudly to Hinch’s point.

He was zipping his four-seam fastball as high as 97 and often at 95-96. He is having more and more fun with his slider, which isn’t fun shared by batters. He mixed in an occasional change-up, as well as a cutter and curveball, part of what seems to be for him an ever-expanding quiver.

“I liked what I did out there today,” Skubal said. “I felt I did a better job of attacking.”

Well, yes and no.

He was referring there mostly to events that began late in the first inning. After walking leadoff batter Marcus Semien on five pitches, he followed by slipping to 3-and-1 on Cavan Biggio, who ripped a single to right, placing runners at the corners.

Skubal was 2-and-1 on the next hitter, Bo Bichette, when his Sunday story changed.

Bichette whacked a slider, hard on the ground, to Niko Goodrum at short, who flipped to second baseman Isaac Paredes, who showed how much ease he’s developed at a new position as he whipped a throw to first for the double play.

No further complications for Skubal as he finished his five-inning shift. A big lift, the Tigers manager said, came from catcher Grayson Greiner, who called some key pitches that settled Skubal.

“He was really good after the first little hiccup in the first,” Hinch said of his starter. “He got that big double-play ball, then came back and really threw strikes and controlled the game.

“I wouldn’t say he cruised the rest of the game. But he was pretty well in control.”

There will be a leash in the early going as the Tigers give Skubal his liberty and limit his license.

But they know they have something potentially extraordinary in a pitcher who is heading north Tuesday evening for his first Opening Day in the big leagues. It’s tail-wagging time for all of the Tigers, especially Hinch’s youngest ones.

Robust relief, mostly

Other than a ninth-inning blow-up from Burrows, the Tigers bullpen pitched niftily Sunday.

Bryan Garcia, whose slider tops out at 96 and pairs handsomely with a strong slider, struck out two Jays batters in a scoreless inning.

Tyler Alexander arrived for two innings, allowing a pair of hits, but no runs or walks as he struck out a pair.

Drew Carlton got the game’s final out after Burrows was socked for a leadoff homer by Tyler White. Burrows then walked a batter, and after two were gone, walked a second hitter ahead of a two-run, game-tying double from Logan Warmoth.

Mazara mashes one

Nomar Mazara spent much of Saturday’s game against the Phillies and Sunday’s early innings against the Blue Jays hitting assorted hot shots — and getting nothing in the way of base hits from them.

He decided in the eighth Sunday that he had endured enough. He hit a ball that couldn’t be fielded, clubbing a change-up over the left-field fence for his first Tigers home run.

Much is riding on Mazara, who bats left-handed, especially when the Tigers outfield is not exactly a demolition crew at home plate.

“That left-hand bat in the middle of some right-hand bats is going to be important,” Hinch said of a hitter who has spent earlier years with the Rangers and White Sox. “He’s clearly got some power, and for us to have a complete offense, that power is really going to be needed.”

Short isn't long from Detroit?

Zack Short set up the Tigers’ first run Sunday when he doubled into the left-field corner, moving Paredes (earlier single) to third base, with Paredes scoring on a ground-out from Victor Reyes.

Short is the Tigers’ newest all-everything performer. He started at third base Sunday but can play any infield position. The Tigers got him from the Cubs last summer in a trade that sent Cameron Maybin to the Cubs.

Short won’t be on the team flight north Tuesday, but Hinch suggested Sunday that a trip to Detroit is perhaps in sight for a player who hasn’t yet had a big-league at-bat.

“He definitely has some intrigue from us,” Hinch said. “We’re going to move him around the infield. He clearly can play shortstop, and we want to put him in multiple situations.”

Short was a 17th-round pick out of Sacred Heart University in 2016 — the same school for which Tigers prospect reliever Jason Foley played. Short is 5-10, 180, and bats right-handed.

“He doesn’t just take the base hit the other way,” Hinch said. “He has some power, even in a smaller package. We think he’s a big-leaguer at some point, maybe even this season.

“The reason he’s over here playing deep into games is that I know he’s one injury (Tigers injury) from being an option for us. I think it’s important for him to continue to be on our team.”

Daz dazzles in CF

Interesting player, and play, that were part of a big seventh-inning sequence Sunday.

Austin Martin was batting for Toronto, the same Austin Martin who a year ago was starring at Vanderbilt and threatening to oust Spencer Torkelson as the first-overall pick in June’s MLB draft.

Martin ripped into a 3-2 pitch from Alexander and sent it on a rocket-flight to center field. That is, until Daz Cameron stretched and dived at the warning track and snared Martin’s missile.

“Daz is a true athlete,” Hinch said. “His set-up is better, and his work with George Lombard (Tigers bench coach and outfield tutor) has really paid off. I don’t know what his route-efficiency was, but it had to have been 100. He never gave up on the play.

“He’s going to start (Monday, against the Yankees at Tampa). I’m going to keep giving him reps.”

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.