Tigers' double-play defense has a costly relapse, spoils Skubal's night
Minneapolis — An old bugaboo from April reared up and bit the Tigers Thursday night.
The failure to turn a couple of double-plays — and one big missed opportunity on offense — was at the heart of the Tigers' 5-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins Thursday night at Target Field.
"It is frustrating," manager AJ Hinch said. "It hasn't been our norm but you are reminded quickly in this game, if you don't execute it can hurt you in the end."
The loss blunted another strong outing by rookie left-hander Tarik Skubal, who started the game with 13 straight outs.
"We didn't execute and gave away a couple of outs and missed a few opportunities," Hinch said. "And we couldn't keep the ball in the ballpark. Those were the three keys to the game."
The Twins came into the game leading baseball with 42 home runs off left-handed pitching. And Skubal’s 17 homers allowed ranked third in the American League. Some fireworks were predictable.
Catcher Ryan Jeffers ended the string of 13 straight outs with a solo homer in the fifth. Then Miguel Sano blasted a solo home run leading off the seventh that tied the game 3-3.
"It's a tough loss," Skubal said. "I didn't do enough to keep our team with that 3-1 lead. I didn't do a good enough job getting the ball to the next guy."
That said, two missed double-play chances indirectly led to three runs, including the tie-breaking runs in the seventh.
Skubal, who was at 90 pitches with no outs in the seventh, gave up a single to Max Kepler but got Gilberto Celestino to hit a chopper to shortstop Zack Short. Short flipped to Willi Castro at second.
Castro, in his haste to throw to first and complete a double-play, took his foot off the bag at second before he had the ball. Both runners were safe, both ended up scoring — one on a wild pitch by Jose Cisnero and the other on a sacrifice fly.
Those runs, unearned, were the margin of victory for Minnesota.
Hinch did not second-guess his decision to stay with Skubal in the seventh.
"He was doing just fine and he had plenty left," Hinch said. "He was so efficient. He had one inning over 20 pitches. He's our guy and he's been incredible for us. And I have a ton of confidence in him.
"That inning had a play we didn't execute behind him. So that was a little unjust to him at that point."
Skubal said he felt strong in the seventh.
"I felt good," he said. "The adrenalin has worn off now and my body still feels good. Getting through the first half of a season and going into the All-Star break completely healthy and feeling strong — I like where I'm at."
A failed double-play opportunity cost the Tigers and Skubal a run in the sixth inning, too. Up 3-1, Jorge Polanco dropped a bunt for a hit and Skubal walked Josh Donaldson with one out.
Skubal got Nelson Cruz to bounce one to Jeimer Candelario at third; a potential inning-ending double-play. But instead of tagging the bag at third and throwing across the diamond, Candelario threw to second and Castro's relay to first was late.
"It might've been easier (to get the first out at third) but it was no sure-fire thing from that distance he had to cover with the runner bearing down on him from second to third," Hinch said. "It just took us a long time to execute that play and Cruz did an incredible job of running the ball out.
"But we need to turn that, one way or another."
Left-handed hitting Trevor Larnach followed with an RBI single to left to make it a 3-2 game.
Eric Haase put the Tigers up 2-0 in the fourth with his 13th home run of the season, a two-run shot. Haase got a wheelhouse fastball (91 mph) from Twins starter J.A. Happ and hooked it inside the foul pole in left field — a 408-foot drive.
They missed a chance to blow it open in the top of the sixth.
Three straight singles that fell in front of Twins outfielders — by Jonathan Schoop, Haase and Miguel Cabrera — set the table. After Candelario was called out on a borderline pitch, Happ walked Short, whom he struck out twice previously, to force in a run.
Still only one out, Happ got Castro to hit into a double-play.
The Tigers didn't put another runner on base after the sixth.