They all wore face masks.
“Yeah, that happened,” Skubal said Saturday. “Socially distanced, but yeah. Awesome feeling.”
The last two weeks have been quite the emotional roller coaster — from getting on a fancy charter plane to making sense of league-wide strikes to protest racial inequality. Called up on Aug. 17, he was shelled the next day in his MLB debut but has improved in each of his two appearance since.
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The next step in his development came Saturday in Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins; he cruised through five innings in the Tigers’ 4-2 victory at Comerica Park. He allowed two runs on three hits and no walks while striking out two. Thanks to Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth, he notched his first big-league win.
“It was awesome for him and for us,” first baseman Jeimer Candelario said Saturday. “He throws the ball really well. He’s got some nasty stuff. We’re just excited to have him here. Keep growing and, man, he’s going to be really good. I like him. It was really special for him and for us.”
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It was just the pick-me-up the Tigers (15-16) needed after a long week of intense conversations beyond baseball. Detroit has won six of eight games after a nine-game losing streak.
Skubal’s Comerica Park debut could’ve had a few more bumps had it not been for center fielder Victor Reyes. In the fourth inning, Skubal left a changeup in the middle of the zone, and 40-year-old Nelson Cruz launched it 431 feet to tie the game at 2.
Two batters later, Miguel Sano stepped into the box.
Sano swung on a hittable 1-2 changeup from Skubal on the outside edge and sent it 413 feet, just left of the center-field shrubs. As Skubal turned around, he didn’t expect it to carry, but some help from the wind sent it on a path over the wall.
Reyes had other plans, gathering himself at the fence and leaping straight up to bring the ball back onto the field.
“You know, it’s Sano, and he’s pretty strong,” Reyes said through interpreter Carlos Guillen. “I saw the wall, and I saw that I was going to be able to jump. So I made a big jump and caught it.”
In the fifth inning, a confident Skubal marched back out to the mound and sent down Marwin Gonzalez, Luis Arraez and Jake Cave in order to finish his strong start. His first two starts lasted just 2 and 2⅓ innings, respectively, because of an inefficient attack under a tight pitch count.
But the limit was relaxed Saturday, letting Skubal attack hitters with his fastball.
He used a heavy dose of it (61%) against the Twins, accompanied by his slider (19%), changeup (13%) and curveball (7%) to reach a season-high 70 pitches. He got 10 called strikes and six swinging strikes, and his fastball touched 98.5 mph.
“He was in control out there,” manager Ron Gardenhire said Saturday. “He relaxed enough to use all of his pitches really well. You can see it right in front of your eyes. This guy’s got great stuff. Good angle with his fastball, the mid-90s. He’s got a nice breaking ball that was snapping pretty good, a good changeup.
“He’s got the pitches. It’s just about getting comfortable and grounded here in the big-leagues.”
Part of his comfort came from digesting left-hander Matthew Boyd’s approach in Game 1 of the doubleheader, which ended in an 8-2 win. Boyd went six innings with six strikeouts and allowed only four hits.
Like his fellow left-hander, Boyd got his first win in the shortened season.
“I did get to watch what he was doing a little bit and see how he attacked and how he got his outs,” Skubal said. “That’s a really good visual to just watch that, and it gives me confidence going into my routine of what I need to do to get outs.”
The Twins entered Saturday in first place of the American League Central, but after Boyd and Skubal were finished, the Tigers seemed like the top team. They locked in their third consecutive series win — thanks to a rainout shortening it to a three-game set.
To remember the moment, the Tigers gave Skubal a beer shower.
And then he was handed the game ball.
“I felt good out there today,” Skubal said. “I got a lot better rhythm going. … I just felt like I attacked them a little bit better. Still working on it and getting more consistent. But, yeah, I felt good.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.