'He is showing glimpses:' Messy middle innings trip up Skubal, Tigers in series opener against Cubs

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – The education of Tarik Skubal continued Friday night. And the lessons aren’t getting any easier.

The rookie left-hander was hit hard and took his sixth loss of the season without a win, as the Cubs opened the three-game interleague set at Comerica Park with a 4-2 win. The loss snapped the Tigers’ four-game winning streak.

"He is showing glimpses of what he can do," manager AJ Hinch said. "In the middle part of the game he got a little tentative and started to guide the ball just a little bit...He needs to continue to work toward not having to be perfect but being perfect with your conviction."

That was the conversation Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter had with Skubal after the outing. He started the game by striking out three of the first four batters, with his fastball hitting 95, 96, 97 on the radar gun. 

Detroit Tigers pitcher Tarik Skubal throws against the Chicago Cubsin the second inning.

And he ended his outing by retiring five straight. In between, though, his fastballs were coming in at 92, 93, 94 and the Cubs weren't missing.

"He gets out there and things get a little fast for him and he's trying to make sure he's doing this right and doing that right and he's thinking a little bit and he eases off the gas pedal trying to execute," Hinch said. "We need execution, but we need conviction more than that."

Much to the delight of the large Cubs contingent in the stands, Kris Bryant smashed a two-run home to right field in the second. It was the 11th home run Skubal had allowed in 30 innings.

It was also the first opposite field home run Bryant has hit off a left-handed pitcher since 2015. He hit that off Dodgers Clayton Kershaw, so Skubal is in good company there at least.

Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant, right, celebrates his two-run home run with Willson Contreras against the Detroit Tigers in the third inning.

The Cubs added two more in the fifth on doubles by Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo, and a broken-bat single by Javier Baez. The Baez bloop was the only softly-struck ball. 

"It's just keeping my foot on the gas," said Skubal, who took his sixth straight loss. "At times I feel like I get into cruise control almost. I have to get back to competing on every pitch and being present every pitch. That's just something I need to be better at."

Through the first five innings, the Cubs put 18 balls in play against him with an average exit velocity of 97.5 mph. Hard-hit balls. They put 10 four-seam fastballs in play with an average exit velocity of 100.3 mph. Harder-hit balls.

BOX SCORE: Cubs 4, Tigers 2

"Sometimes you might not be sync'd up and it can be 92 mph," Skubal said. "But I should be coming at guys with everything I've got every single pitch that I throw. If I throw 100 pitches in a game, every one has to be with the right intent and the right conviction."

But there's something to be said for how he stays in the fight. He's 0-6 and his ERA is hovering just under 6.0, but he battled. He left two runners on in the second and two more in the fifth. Then he closed out his night with a clean sixth inning. Stuff to clean up, stuff to build from.   

"He's got the stuff," catcher Jake Rogers said. "I believe in him 100 percent. He's going to be great and he's going to be great for a long time. One of these days he's going to find it. I believe in him, I really do. It'll click. It's coming. I feel it."

The Tigers, meanwhile, had their hands full with veteran right-hander Jake Arrieta. He hadn’t pitched since April 30, sitting out with a cut thumb. But you’d never know it.

He allowed just two singles and a walk through five innings and erased all three with double-play balls – two from Jonathan Schoop. Thus, he faced the minimum through five. In fact, he faced he minimum for 5.2 innings.

Then a little lightning. Rogers and Robbie Grossman hit back-to-back home runs. For Rogers, it was his first home run in the big leagues since August of 2019. For Grossman, it was his fourth of the season and it was a monster – 442 feet, deep into the right field seats.

Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta throws against the Detroit Tigers in the first inning.

Both came off Arrieta's sinker.

"We couldn't really put any pressure on him," Hinch said. "He was in control of contact. We couldn't get the ball off the ground against him very easily." 

The Tigers managed just two other hits, singles, and didn't put any other runners in scoring position. They made 10 ground ball outs. 

The Tigers bullpen held serve, getting a scoreless inning from Bryan Garcia and two from Chicago native Kyle Funkhouser. But the Tigers hitters couldn't dent the Cubs bullpen. Relievers Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Craig Kimbrel set down the last nine with allowing a ball to leave the infield.

Kimbrel struck out the side in the ninth. 


Twitter: @cmccosky