Pitching coach Rick Anderson stood over Detroit Tigers left-hander Tarik Skubal, who sat on the edge of his seat in the dugout, for a conversation after the sixth inning. When Skubal stood up, he was greeted with first bumps from his teammates.
Matthew Boyd and Casey Mize stood next to him, both with face masks, to congratulate the rookie and digest his electric outing.
But nobody smiled walking back into the clubhouse a few innings later, as the bullpen squandered a two-run lead — capped off by Byron Buxton’s walk-off infield single. He beat the throw from shortstop Willi Castro as the Minnesota Twins stole a 4-3 win from the Tigers (17-20) on Saturday at Target Field.
Skubal, in his fourth MLB start, gave up one run in six innings, allowing just two hits and two walks with six strikeouts. The Tigers’ three-losing streak has been extended to four games.
As of Saturday night, Detroit was 3½ games back of the Toronto Blue Jays for the AL’s eighth and final playoff spot. Manager Ron Gardenhire left in the sixth inning of Saturday’s game with a stomach virus, according to the Tigers.
The Tigers scored two runs in the top of the seventh to put Skubal in a position for his second big-league win. They chased Twins starter Kenta Maeda and continued to thrive against reliever Tyler Clippard, who eventually worked out of a bases-loaded jam.
Mize starts Sunday in hopes of securing the Tigers’ first win in the series after the Tigers dropped both games in Friday’s doubleheader. The five-game slate concludes Monday with right-hander Michael Fulmer on the mound for the Tigers.
The 23-year-old threw a career-high 78 pitches in his fourth start, producing 14 swinging strikes (eight with his fastball) and 22 called strikes. He used 60% fastballs, 18% changeups, 13% sliders and 9% curveballs.
Skubal’s fastball touched 97.6 mph.
He allowed his first baserunner with one out in the fourth inning on a four-pitch walk to 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson. He came back by inducing Nelson Crusz to hit into a double play to remain at the minimum batters faced (12) through four frames.
Skubal gave up his first hit on a single to Brent Rooker with no outs in the fifth, followed by another single to left field by Miguel Sano. But he started a 1-6-3 double play — without looking back toward home — with runners on the corners. Pinch-runner Jake Cave made it home to tie the game at one run apiece.
Maeda settles in
Maeda wanted to bury his second-pitch slider to leadoff hitter Victor Reyes in the first inning, but he accidentally left in the strike zone. Reyes sent the ball over the right-field wall to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
It was Reyes’ fourth homer of the season and second as the leadoff hitter.
But Maeda had no problem bouncing back, as he retired the next 18 Tigers before a walk to Jonathan Schoop to start the seventh. During that stretch, he produced eight strikeouts — against Reyes, Schoop, Miguel Cabrera, Jeimer Candelario, Willi Castro, Christin Stewart, Isaac Paredes and Austin Romine.
The 32-year-old was chased in the seventh after Cabrera followed Schoop’s walk with a single to put runners on the corners. In 91 pitches, Maeda gave up three runs on two hits and one walk with eight punch outs. He got 12 strikes swinging with his slider and eight more with his changeup.
Bullpen makes mess
Reliever Joe Jimenez gave up a two-out solo blast to Sano, which had an exit velocity of 107.3 mph, but left-hander Gregory Soto entered to dust Eddie Rosario on an 88.5 mph slider after setting him up with two fastballs.
Although Buck Farmer pitched a clean eighth inning, righty Jose Cisnero blew the save with an RBI single to Sano. Two batters later, Buxton ended the game with his walk-off single to shortstop.
In Jimenez’s last seven appearances (4⅓ innings), he has allowed 10 earned runs.
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.