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Tigers vs. Royals Preview: Detroit offense gets first look at rookie Eric Skoglund

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The 24-year-old lefthander will make his major league debut on Tuesday.

MLB: Kansas City Royals-Media Day Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Few moments are as exciting in a major league player’s career than their first call-up. It is the moment that these players have worked towards for years, and one they will cherish for the rest of their lives. Lefthander Eric Skoglund will get to experience that joy on Tuesday when he makes his major league debut against the Detroit Tigers.

One wonders, though. Is there a tinge of doubt when a player is called up and put into an unfavorable situation? Skoglund won’t exactly get a soft landing in this game; for all their struggles lately, this is still a Tigers lineup that features Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and other thumpers. They scored 10 runs in Monday’s win, and were one of the American League’s most prolific lineups prior to their recent skid.

Whether borne out of excitement or fear, Skoglund will be experiencing plenty of emotions when he takes the mound on Tuesday. It is up to him to keep everything in check as he and the Royals try to even the series against Detroit.

Detroit Tigers (24-27) at Kansas City Royals (21-29)

Time/Place: 8:15 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (4-3, 4.87 ERA) vs. LHP Eric Skoglund (2-3, 4.53 ERA at Triple-A)

Game 52 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Verlander 61.0 21.7 10.9 4.56 0.5
Skoglund (AAA) 43.2 21.7 5.4 4.19 -

The Royals selected Skoglund out of Central Florida with their third round pick in the 2014 MLB draft. He spent all of 2015 at High-A Wilmington, where he limited opponents to a 3.52 ERA with a sparkling 6.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His numbers only improved at Double-A in 2016, where he posted a 3.45 ERA with an improved strikeout rate in 156 13 innings.

The impressive peripherals he had in the low minors were likely due to his profile — college lefthanders handle A-ball pretty well — rather than his overall stuff. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen projected Skoglund as a back-end starter when he ranked the Royals prospects last winter.

Skoglund has improved the consistency of his arm slot and release point since leaving UCF, resulting in plenty of strike-throwing and more reliable downward movement on his curveball. His low-90s fastball plays up due to extension and plane and he’ll flash an above-average curveball. Skoglund’s changeup is well below average, lacking both movement and proper arm speed, but he’s somewhat able to work his fastball in on right-handed hitters and, if he can either develop his seldom-used slider and learn how to locate it and his curveball effectively against righties, his changeup quality will matter much less.

Baseball Prospectus wasn’t as kind in early 2015, calling him “an organizational arm that will be able to consistently eat innings.”

Key matchup: Justin Verlander vs. Salvador Perez

Verlander has phenomenal numbers against the Royals in his career. He has limited Kansas City to a 3.23 ERA in 41 meetings, and is 13-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 22 starts at Kauffman Stadium. He continued that dominance in 2016, winning two of three matchups while allowing just a 0.95 WHIP. The current roster is hitting .240/.284/.379 against him in 467 plate appearances.

Incredibly, 23 of the 103 total hits this roster has against Verlander have come from one player: Salvador Perez. The All-Star catcher is hitting .442/.436/.712 in 55 plate career appearances against Verlander, and has 10 extra base hits. While this specific matchup may not decide the outcome of the game — how Verlander fares against the other eight hitters will determine that — it has certainly ben a mystifying matchup for Tigers and Royals fans to keep an eye on over the years.

Outlook

For all of the trouble the Tigers have had on this road trip, they still aren’t in that bad of shape. Their win on Monday coincided with a Minnesota Twins loss, moving the Tigers to within four games of the AL Central lead. They have a chance to salvage an otherwise forgettable road trip with wins on Tuesday and Wednesday, especially as the Twins face a tough Houston Astros club.

It starts with Verlander, though. We had high hopes that he could clinch a split with those same Astros last week, but he imploded, allowing six runs on nine hits. He has phenomenal numbers against the Royals in his career — and they are nowhere near as dangerous of a lineup as Houston — but it’s tough to trust him at this point.

Prediction

Verlander and the bullpen implode in the middle innings and the Royals even the series.