Tigers can't solve Civale again, lose fourth straight game
Detroit — Tigers manage AJ Hinch had just spent about five minutes extolling the virtues of Indians right-hander Aaron Civale and then threw up his hands.
"I'm the wrong guy to ask, we haven't figured him out yet," he said.
The Tigers have had three whacks at Civale this year and they’ve yet to crack him. Shoot, they’ve yet to nick him.
The American League wins leader posted No. 7 Tuesday, stopping the Tigers on six hits over eight innings in a 4-1 Indians win at Comerica Park. It was the fourth straight loss for the Tigers.
"Today was probably the best of his three outings against us," Hinch said. "His ability to manipulate the ball and do whatever he wants to, pitch at the margins of the strike zone and also be pitch-efficient -- we couldn't get multiple runners on base until the ninth.
"He was really good, obviously."
The Tigers did make some noise in the ninth. A single by Jeimer Candelario and a walk to Miguel Cabrera chased Civale in the ninth.
Right-hander James Karinchak gave up an RBI single to Jonathan Schoop and walked rookie Akil Baddoo to load the bases with one out. But he struck out Willi Castro looking at a slider and got Eric Haase to fly to center.
"It was a frustrating night because did hit a couple of balls hard," Hinch said. "We just couldn't piece anything together."
Civale, 6-0 against the Tigers in his career, has limited the Tigers to five runs in 22.2 innings this season. One of the few hitters who seemed to have good read on him was Baddoo. He flew out to the track in right field in the fifth and tripled to the base of the wall in center in the seventh.
Harold Castro, who has hit in six straight and had multiple hits in the last five, got two singles but only two runners advanced into scoring position against Civale.
"He's a real pitcher," Hinch said. "In an era where we talk spin rates and velocity, he throws plenty hard but he can really do some things with the ball that makes him tough."
Civale stymied them with his cutter and four-seam fastball combination primarily, but he also effectively mixed in curveballs, sliders, sinkers and splitters. Is it any wonder the hitters were off-balance.
He’s a handful. And he upstaged another strong start by Tigers rookie left-hander Tarik Skubal.
Skubal matched his career-high nine strikeouts for the second straight start. In his four starts in May, he’s got 33 strikeouts in 16 innings.
The last Tigers rookie to post consecutive nine-strikeout games was Mark Leiter in 1991.
"We're watching Tarik mature," Hinch said. "He's starting to learn himself more so than he's learning the league. And as he incorporates both of those he's going to be a little more pitch-efficient. But the stuff is real."
Cesar Hernandez ambushed Skubal’s second pitch of the game, a 94-mph fastball, and knocked it into the Tigers’ bullpen beyond the left field fence. It was the 13th homer Skubal has allowed this season.
The only other scratch came in the fourth, on a single by lefty Eddie Rosario, a double by Harold Ramirez and a ground out.
"I'm understanding better what hitters are trying to do in the box," Skubal said. "I'm trying to get better at reading swings, just to get that feel so when a sign gets thrown down I'm not thrown off. I get that conviction."
Skubal has been far more effective since he ditched the split-change he added to his mix over the winter. Not only has the traditional change-up served him well, his fastball has come to life. He threw 46 four-seamers Tuesday with a velocity range of 93 to 98 mph.
His slider and knuckle-curve were weapons for him, too.
But with all the strikeouts, and only one clean inning, his pitch-count was 93 after five. He’s had just one start longer than five innings.
"I think I just need to be better in the zone and getting guys into counts," Skubal said of the elevated pitch counts. "I can strike guys out in three or four pitches. It doesn't always have to be seven or eight pitches."
Right-hander Kyle Funkhouser, who has quietly raised his stock since being recalled from Toledo, recorded six straight outs through the sixth and seventh. But in the eighth, he tried to double-up on sliders to Indians Jordan Luplow.
Luplow whiffed on the first one. The second one he clobbered 420 feet over the left-center field fence – a two run home run that doubled the Indians lead.
"Tarik was out after five innings because he used a lot of pitches early," Hinch said. "But it's hard to argue this wasn't one of his best starts. Just with his stuff. His breaking ball was pretty good and he didn't have to rely on the change-up as much and his velocity was good.
"We just didn't score any runs for him and it's tough for him to have to be perfect."