Tarik Skubal was scheduled to start Tuesday night, but 20 minutes before the originally scheduled first pitch — fearing the impending rain may break up his start — the Detroit Tigers announced he would be pushed back to Wednesday.
However, after a two-hour and five-minute rain delay, it was clear there wouldn’t be another break in the evening, so A.J. Hinch decided to let his best starter take the mound.
That worked out pretty well.
Skubal continued his stellar season by limiting baserunners while pitching deep into the ballgame as the Tigers topped the Pirates, 5-3, to improve to 22-33.
“We were going to scratch him because I was expecting a rain delay because if we started at seven and they were going to make us, we were going to lose Skubal in two innings,” Hinch said, according to Bally Sports Detroit. “Then, once we were in a full delay, I know we’re not starting until there’s a clear window so we went back to Tarik.”
Skubal’s final line was impressive: seven innings, six hits, three earned runs, no walks and nine strikeouts on 92 pitches (65 strikes) with 19 swings and misses and 13 called strikes. He’s the only Tigers pitcher to complete seven innings in a start this year; he has done so four times in 11 outings.
“That was interesting,” Skubal said of the pregame to reporters, recording by BSD cameras. “I went from ‘hey you’re going to start tomorrow’ so I played catch, to we’re in a delay so you’re going to start tonight, so I was like ‘all right, let’s do it’.
“I prepared to pitch today, so that was interesting, but it happened last year in Baltimore, the same type of thing.”
On top of the weird nature of the evening, Skubal’s final line still doesn’t tell the story of how in control he was from the start.
The first earned run he allowed came with two outs in the second when a Cal Mitchell single squeaked under the glove of Javier Báez before Yu Chang, who entered the game 0-for-19 with 14 strikeouts, hit a blooper to right field.
Jonathan Schoop raced out, Austin Meadows charged in and the ball just tipped off the out-stretched arm of Schoop and dropped.
Meadows bobbled the ball as he tried to pick it up allowing Mitchell — who was running on contact — to score all the way from first and give Pittsburgh the lead.
Mitchell was the only real thorn in Skubal’s side. After Jack Suwinski was hit by a pitch to open the bottom of fourth, the left-hander left a 1-1 slider over the heart of the plate that Mitchell smashed 405 feet into the right-field seats for a two-out, two-run home run.
“It’s not like my slider was bad, I just had trouble getting it to my glove side against left-handed hitters, which is something I need to get better at,” Skubal said after the game. “Obviously the home run pitch was a slider that needs to be way better executed.
“Other than that, I thought my change up was good, curveball was good … that’s a scrappy lineup, a lot of guys foul off good pitches and make you throw another one, make you throw another one, so hats off to them in that aspect.”
It was just the third home run allowed by Skubal on the season and the first by a left-handed hitter.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they had some cushion to work with by that point.
In the top of the third, Willi Castro hit a two-out, two-strike single to right field to bring up Schoop, who ripped a double into the left-centerfield gap and tied the game, 1-1.
The Tigers got some breathing room in the fourth. Báez led off the inning with a single, then recorded his first steal of the year. He finished the night 2-for-4 with a double, single, walk, steal and run scored.
“Right before the delay I was ready, I was in the cage hitting and I was pretty warm,” Báez said during the postgame available. “I was seeing the ball good. As long as I feel good I’ll be out there on the bases, try to be out there on the bases … I’m going to try to be aggressive out there when I get the chance.”
Two batters later, Spencer Torkelson ripped a double off the top of the wall in centerfield to put Detroit up 2-1.
It was Torkelson’s hardest hit — 109 mph — since April 15.
Daz Cameron followed with a single and Tucker Barnhart walked to load the bases for Harold Castro. He sent a single up the middle to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead and end the day for Pittsburgh starter Jose Quintana with one out in the fourth.
After Mitchell’s two-run shot cut the deficit in the bottom of the fourth, Skubal shut the door.
The Pirates’ got back-to-back hits from Ke’Bryan Hayes (a hard-hit one-hopper off Baez’s glove) and Brian Reynolds with two outs in the fifth, but Skubal got a three-pitch strikeout of Suwinski to get out of his final jam of the night.
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Skubal sent the Pirates down in order in both the sixth and seventh innings to finish his night, before the Tigers got an insurance run for the bullpen to work with in the eighth.
With one out in the eighth, Torkelson, who reached on a walk, was thrown out at second on a fielders choice. He was the second Tiger in as many innings to get thrown out between second and third, after Willi Castro was caught in a run down following his leadoff double in the seventh.
“On the base running side, certainly handling my own team, I think it was bad across the board,” Hinch said. “Both teams got extra outs they normally wouldn’t get due to base running.”
In the next at-bat, Barnhart ripped a line drive to right field, Mitchell got a bad jump and dove at the ball sinking in front of him, which bounced and skipped beyond him.
It allowed Cameron, who reached on the fielder’s choice, to sprint all the way in from first base for the Tigers’ fifth run.
Alex Lange came on in the eighth and after allowing a leadoff walk, Schoop made a leaping grab on a line drive by Reynolds and doubled off Hayes at first.
Gregory Soto needed just eight pitches to work a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 11th save of the season.
Austin Meadows shows rust in return
The Tigers offense came alive on Tuesday with 11 hits, including five doubles. Eight of the nine starters had at least one hit.
The only one to not reach base was Meadows, who was playing in his first game since May 15 after spending the past three weeks on the injured list with vertigo went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and hit into a double play.
Meadows went 2-for-13 in his rehab starts in Toledo with one home run and two RBIs.
He’s now hitting .257 on the season with with a .362 OBP, but continues to search for his first home run as a Tiger.
Contact Tony Garcia at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.