The Detroit Tigers played a winning brand of baseball, shining in all three facets – throwing, hitting and defending – against the Minnesota Twins. 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,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Hopefully in the last two weeks we’ve seen ourselves take a step forward in a few different areas. … We’re starting to show that outside of the rankings, the record, we’re focusing more on the hand game , and better things happen.
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Left-handed starter Tarik Skubal went seven scoreless innings, lowering his ERA to 2.15, and two relievers scored a pair of scoreless frames. The offense had nine hits and passed the baton in a fifth inning four run. The defense, without shortstop Javier Báez, made no mistakes until third baseman Jeimer Candelario’s pitching error in the ninth inning.
Those performances made it 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, as well as each of their last two series, both against American League Central opponents.
Despite the solid attack and defense, Wednesday’s game belonged to Skubal. The 25-year-old dominated his seven innings, allowing just two hits and one walk with six strikeouts.
“He was good and he can improve,” Hinch said. “We’re developing a really good pitcher here. His mentality is in a good place. His execution is in a good place. His production has been elite. It’s fun to watch.”
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Skubal induced 13 swings and misses, doing so with all of his pitches: two seam fours, four sliders, two sinkers, four shifts, and a knuckle curve. He also racked up 19 called strikes.
As for the two blows against him?
They were low singles, with exit speeds of 57.9 mph and 65.4 mph, by Jorge Polanco in the first moto and Gio Urshela in the fourth.
“It was like playing a video game for me,” receiver Tucker Barnhart said. “It’s pretty easy when it happens like that. Just make sure you sequence your throws the right way and let him do his thing. It makes it easier for me.”
The first inning was the toughest for Skubal, as Polanco’s single and Urshela’s five-pitch walk that followed forced him to throw 25 pitches. With two runners, Skubal took out Trevor Larnach – winning a seven-pitch clash – with a 97 mph lead for the third out.
“The legs and arm didn’t work together at first,” Skubal said. “On that court, it clicked for me. I was able to execute a throw to one spot right there. I just need to consistently throw more shots and more quality shots where I want to go with baseball.”
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From that point Skubal needed 78 pitches, an average of 13 pitches per inning, to complete his final six frames.
“That was my goal, to eat as many rounds as I wanted,” Skubal said. “If I don’t have that first inning, maybe I can go out for the eighth. It’s part of the game. But I’ll take all seven innings.”
Skubal, who had a 1.45 ERA in May, has retired the last 10 batters he has faced.
He threw 67 of 103 pitches for strikes.
“He’s really mean,” right fielder Willi Castro said. “He’s one of the best pitchers right now. There’s about six starting pitchers in rehab, and he’s been the one who’s been consistent. Hopefully we get the rest of the guys back, and it’ll be a lot better. ”
The offense goes over the hump
The Tigers opened the scoring in the first period, as Willi Castro started with a brace in the right field corner. He reached third base on Harold Castro’s sacrificial bunt, then scored on Jonathan Schoop’s RBI single.
There was a chance to build on the early 1-0 lead.
Miguel Cabrera called Schoop with a single, but Torkelson found himself in a late-inning double play.
“Like any sport, we go through ups and downs, and we started a bit,” said Willi Castro. “Right now I know we’re going to do a better job every day, coming here with our heads held high. We’re going to fight. I know from now on we’re going to do a lot better.”
Twins starter Bailey Ober, a right-hander, settled in the second, third and fourth innings, but the Tigers attacked him for four runs in the fifth inning. He allowed five runs on nine hits and zero walks in six innings.
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The fifth inning started the same way as the first inning, with an extra hit that strengthened the offense. Candelario ripped a triple wide wide from left center and came on to score on Barnhart’s single for a 2-0 advantage.
The Tigers nailed three more runs with three straight hits: Willi Castro (single), Harold Castro (double RBI) and Schoop (double RBI RBI). Miguel Cabrera retired and Torkelson retired swinging for the final two outs.
“Good at bat after good at bat,” Hinch said. “We didn’t have a lot of empty sticks, and that was good to see. … It’s all very positive. We need our guys to be successful. We just need to get Kody (Clemens) that first success.”
After Ober left, the Twins received two scoreless innings from right-handed reliever Trevor Megill.
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