DETROIT — The sight of Tarik Skubal waiting for his first pitch at Comerica Park until the bottom of the first inning while his team batted Tuesday was different, and not just for the fans.
“I was lucky someone said something in the dugout, because I was going to run out [for the top of the first inning],” Skubal said. “Thank God someone said that, because I was going to run out, and then [A’s starter Frankie] Montas would run out, and no one would know what’s going on.”
The Tigers were technically the visitors for the first game of their doubleheader against the A’s, since the game was originally scheduled to be played in Oakland during the first week of the season. The way Skubal pitched, it was clearly his house, tossing seven scoreless innings in a 6-0 win that ended Detroit’s six-game losing streak.
There was no such confusion later for Alex Faedo, who was the home starter in Game 2. Still, as the Tigers took their turn trying to hit A’s rookie starter Adrian Martinez, Faedo could be seen pacing the dugout, stretching his legs and standing at the bottom of the steps with two outs.
Faedo had done the same in his Major League debut last week.
“I feel like after each out, I need to do something to get moving,” Faedo said. “I feel like if I sit there for too long, then I might get a little cold, a little cranky. So I try to get up after each out, get a little bit of movement in, just so I know I’m ready to go for that next inning.”
Faedo put together his second consecutive outing of five innings and two runs allowed, keeping the Tigers close in a 4-1 loss. With seven strikeouts and 17 swings and misses, 10 of them off his slider, his stuff was even better than the first time around.
Three years ago, Skubal and Faedo were in the same prospect-stacked rotation at Double-A Erie, along with Joey Wentz, who will make his Major League debut as Detroit’s starter on Wednesday. Now, they’re not only in the Majors, they’re trying to keep the Tigers’ season afloat while Detroit tries to find its offense.
Game 1 was a good sign, punctuated by Jonathan Schoop’s home run and Jeimer Candelario’s bases-clearing double. Game 2, including a Candelario line drive caught by a diving Tony Kemp at second base, was a reminder that this team isn’t yet past its hitting frustrations.
“These guys need hits,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “You can encourage them. You can hug them. You can love on them. What they need is hits.”
Though the Tigers bolstered their rotation with veterans Eduardo Rodriguez and Michael Pineda, Skubal has been their best starter all season, punctuated by a dominant strikeout-to-walk rate (5.67). He has struggled at times with a combination of defensive miscues behind him and offensive anemia in support of him. On Tuesday, Skubal had his best start of the year despite a fastball that wasn’t as sharp as he would’ve liked.
Skubal retired Oakland’s first eight batters until Tony Kemp’s third-inning double, and allowed just three hits with three walks while striking out five. Just two balls Oakland hit off him topped 100 mph in exit velocity; both went for outs. None of the three hits off Skubal was harder than 84 mph.
“My fastball didn’t have quite the life it usually does for whatever reason,” Skubal said, “so I relied on the slider a little bit more today. I just liked that pitch a little bit better today.”
Skubal spent Spring Training sharpening his changeup for games like this against lineups heavy on right-handed hitters. Kemp was the only left-handed hitter in Oakland’s order, but Skubal threw sliders for 30 of his 92 pitches, drawing three swings and misses, six called strikes and three of his five strikeouts.
“I just wanted to get back in the dugout and let the guys swing,” said Skubal, who now has 34 strikeouts and just six walks over 33 2/3 innings. “No one wants to play defense in long innings, so my job was just get [them] back in the dugout and get comfortable swinging.”
Faedo had his combination of fastball, slider and changeup working early. A’s hitters swung at his first 13 sliders over three hitless innings, whiffing on eight of them and putting two in play for outs. They grew more patient in the fourth and produced two runs on a walk and three hits, but Faedo came back with two more strikeouts in the fifth.
“Just a little lapse,” Faedo said. “I’ll be better than that next time. Just gotta be able to make adjustments pitch by pitch.”
Though the Tigers returned Faedo to Triple-A Toledo’s roster after the game — he was the 27th player for the doubleheader — he doesn’t have to spend the standard 10 days in the Minors before being recalled. Either he or Wentz will get at least one more start next week while Casey Mize and Matt Manning continue their rehab process in hopes of rejoining the rotation later this month.
The rest of this month, and this week in particular, is critical, with two more games against the A’s ahead of a three-game visit from the Orioles. The young starters are doing their part.