The Detroit Tigers played a winning brand of baseball, shining in all three facets — pitching, hitting and defense — 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 nearly guarantees a victory.
“We needed to start playing well a long time ago,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Hopefully, these last couple weeks, we’ve seen us take a step forward in a couple different areas. … We’re starting to show that, standings aside, record aside, we are getting more central focused on the game at hand, and better things are happening.”
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Left-handed starter Tarik Skubal fired seven scoreless innings, lowering his ERA to 2.15, and two relievers chipped in a pair of scoreless frames. The offense posted nine hits and passed the baton in a four-run fifth inning. The defense, without shortstop Javier Báez, didn’t make a mistake until third baseman Jeimer Candelario’s throwing error in the ninth inning.
Those performances manufactured a 5-0 win over the Twins at Comerica Park in the fourth of five games to take the series. The Tigers (20-30) have won 11 of their past 18 games, as well as each of their past two series, both against American League Central foes.
Despite the solid offense and defense, Wednesday’s game belonged to Skubal. The 25-year-old dominated over his seven innings, allowing just two hits and one walk with six strikeouts.
“He was good, and he can get better,” 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 his pitches: two four-seamers, four sliders, two sinkers, four changeup and one knuckle curve. He also racked up 19 called strikes.
As for the two hits against him?
Those were weak singles, with 57.9 mph and 65.4 mph exit velocities, by Jorge Polanco in the first inning and Gio Urshela in the fourth.
“It was like playing a video game for me,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “It’s pretty easy when it’s going like that. Just got to make sure you’re sequencing your pitches the right way and let him do his things. It makes it easy on me.”
The first inning was the most difficult for Skubal, as Polanco’s single and Urshela’s ensuing five-pitch walk forced him to throw 25 pitches. With two runners on, Skubal struck out Trevor Larnach — winning a seven-pitch clash — with a 97 mph sinker for the third out.
“The legs and the arm weren’t working together early,” Skubal said. “On that pitch, it clicked for me. I was able to execute a pitch in a spot right there. I just need to consistently throw more strikes and more quality strikes where I want to go with the baseball.”
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From that point forward, 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 innings as I wanted to,” 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’m going to take the seven innings.”
Skubal, who had a 1.45 ERA in May, retired the final 10 batters he faced.
He threw 67 of 103 pitches for strikes.
“He’s really nasty,” right fielder Willi Castro said. “He’s one of the best pitchers right now. There’s like six starting pitchers rehabbing, and he’s the one that’s been consistent. Hopefully, we get the rest of the guys back, and it’s going to be way better.”
Offense gets over the hump
The Tigers opened the scoring in the first, as Willi Castro led off with a double to the right-field corner. He advanced to third base on Harold Castro’s sacrifice bunt, then scored on Jonathan Schoop’s RBI single.
There was a chance to build on the early 1-0 lead.
Miguel Cabrera followed Schoop with a single of his own, but Torkelson grounded into an inning-ending double play.
“Like any sport, we go through ups and downs, and we started a little off,” Willi Castro said. “Right now, I know we’re going to do a better job every day, coming out here with our head up. We’re going to battle. I know from now on, we’re going to do way better.”
Twins starter Bailey Ober, a right-hander, settled in through the second, third and fourth inning, but the Tigers attacked him for four runs in the fifth inning. He allowed five runs on nine hits and zero walks across six innings.
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The fifth inning started similar to the first inning, with an extra-base hit boosting the offense. Candelario ripped a triple to the left-center gap and came around to score on Barnhart’s infield single for a 2-0 advantage.
The Tigers tacked on three more runs with three consecutive one-out hits: Willi Castro (single), Harold Castro (RBI double) and Schoop (RBI ground-rule double). Miguel Cabrera grounded out and Torkelson struck out swinging for the final two outs.
“Good at-bat after good at-bat,” Hinch said. “We didn’t have a lot of empty at-bats, and it was good to see. … All that stuff is very positive. We need our guys to do well. We just got to get Kody (Clemens) that first hit.”
After Ober departed, the Twins received two scoreless innings from right-handed reliever Trevor Megill.
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