The Detroit Tigers played a successful baseball against the Minnesota Twins, which shone in all three facets – pitching, hitting and defense. Clicking on all cylinders has been a rarity for most of this season.
On Wednesday, the Tigers executed a plan that almost guarantees a win.
“We had to start playing well a long time ago,” said manager AJ Hinch. “Hopefully over the past few weeks we’ve seen us take a step forward in a few different areas. … We’re starting to show that, apart from being top of the table and the record, we’re more and more focused on the game and better things are happening.”
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Left-handed starter Tarik Skubal fired off seven scoreless innings and dropped his ERA to 2.15, and two relievers chipped in two scoreless frames. The offensive hit nine and passed the baton in a four-run fifth inning. The defense, without shortstop Javier Báez, made no mistake until third baseman Jeimer Candelario’s shot in the ninth inning.
Those performances resulted in a 5-0 win over the Twins at Comerica Park in the fourth of five games to win the series. The Tigers (20-30) have won 11 of their last 18 games and each of their last two series, both against American League Central opponents.
Despite solid offense and defense, Wednesday’s game belonged to Skubal. The 25-year-old dominated his seven innings, allowing just two hits and a walk with six strikeouts.
“He was good and he can get better,” said Hinch. “We’re developing a really good thrower here. His mentality is good. His execution is good. His production was elite. It’s fun to watch.”
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Skubal executed 13 swings and misses using all of his pitches: two fourseamers, four sliders, two sinkers, four changeups and a knuckle turn. He also accumulated 19 called strikes.
As for the two goals against him?
Those were weak singles with 57.9 mph and 65.4 mph starting speeds from Jorge Polanco in the first inning and Gio Urshela in the fourth.
“For me, it was like playing a video game,” said catcher Tucker Barnhart. “It’s pretty easy when it goes like this. I just have to make sure you get your pitches in the right order and let him do his stuff. That makes it easy for me.”
The first inning was the most difficult for Skubal, as Polanco’s single and Urshela’s subsequent five-pitch walk forced him to throw 25 pitches. With two runners, Skubal beat Trevor Larnach — who won a seven-pitch fight — with a 97-mile sinker for the third out.
“The legs and arm didn’t work together early on,” Skubal said. “It clicked for me in that field. I was able to pitch right there. I just have to be consistent in throwing more strikes and higher quality strikes where I want the baseball to go.”
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From that point on, Skubal required 78 pitches, averaging 13 pitches per inning, to complete his last six frames.
“That was my goal, to eat as many innings as I wanted,” Skubal said. “If I don’t have that first inning, maybe I can go out for the eighth. That’s just part of the game. But I’ll take the seven innings.”
Skubal, who had a 1.45 ERA in May, retired the last 10 batters he faced.
He threw 67 of 103 pitches for strikes.
“He’s really mean,” said right fielder Willi Castro. “He’s one of the best pitchers at the moment. There are six beginning pitchers rehab and he’s the one who has been consistent. Hopefully we can get the rest of the guys back and it’ll be a lot better.”
Offensive comes over the hump
The Tigers opened the first goal when Willi Castro headed in the right corner with a brace. He advanced to third base with Harold Castro’s sacrificial bunch and then hit with Jonathan Schoop’s RBI single.
The early 1-0 lead could be extended.
Miguel Cabrera followed Schoop with a single of his own, but Torkelson landed in a double at the end of the inning.
“Like any sport, we have ups and downs and we started a little off the hook,” said Willi Castro. “Right now I know that if we come here with our heads held high, we will do a better job every day. We will fight. I know we will do much better from now on.”
Twins starter Bailey Ober, a right-hander, made up in the second, third and fourth innings, but the Tigers attacked him for four runs in the fifth inning. He allowed five runs with nine hits and zero walks over six innings.
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The fifth inning started out similar to the first inning, with an extra base hit that added offense. Candelario ripped a three into the left-center gap and came around to score on Barnhart’s infield singles for a 2-0 advantage.
The Tigers went on for three more runs with three consecutive singles hits: Willi Castro (singles), Harold Castro (RBI doubles) and Schoop (RBI ground rules doubles). Miguel Cabrera landed on the floor and Torkelson hit out for the last two outs.
“Good bats for good bats,” Hinch said. “We didn’t have many empty bats and it was good to see. … All these things are very positive. We need our boys to do well. We just have to get Kody (Clemens) punch first.”
After Ober departed, the Twins received two scoreless innings from right-handed reliever Trevor Megill.