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Tigers 5, Fire 4: Detroit walks it off in exhibition opener

The Tigers opened their 2020 schedule with a win.

Detroit Tigers Spring Workout Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers played (and won) a real baseball game on Friday, officially opening their 2020 season — well, the part that doesn’t count, at least. Detroit’s Danny Pinero hit a single into center field in the ninth to score prospect Jake Holton, giving the Tigers a 5-4 win over Southeastern University at Joker Marchant Stadium.

The win itself isn’t important of course. It was a blustery day in Lakeland, which made for some poor hitting conditions. A 6-for-31 performance (.194 average) at the plate isn’t the best, but nine walks to three strikeouts for the offense is a welcome sight. The pitching staff combined to strike out 15 Fire hitters while only issuing four walks of their own. Certain Important People (more on them in a moment) looked really good in their spring training debuts.

No, the Tigers are simply playing baseball again, which is good enough for us.

Let’s talk about Tarik Skubal, though

Following a breakout season in 2019, the biggest question people are asking of Skubal in 2020 is if he can keep up his blistering pace (or something close to it) against better competition. Southeastern University doesn’t have the same caliber of hitters he will be facing in Double- and Triple-A, but Skubal looked completely unhittable through two innings of work. He struck out five of the six hitters he faced in two innings, didn’t allow a hit, and nearly threw an immaculate inning.

Skubal also hit 99 miles per hour on the radar gun — though likely one riding a little hot — and looked equally dominant in his first inning. It’s only one game, but Skubal’s hype train isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

Other quick observations

  • Though the Tigers didn’t rack up too many hits, those competing for major league jobs looked decent. Willi Castro, Dawel Lugo, and Travis Demeritte all collected a hit and a walk apiece, with Lugo’s two-out single scoring two runs in the fifth. First baseman Brandon Dixon also walked and scored a run.
  • On the pitching side, all of Southeastern’s damage came against relievers Rony Garcia and Gerson Moreno. The Tigers’ Rule 5 pick was not sharp, allowing a pair of runs on three hits in his lone inning of work. Moreno, meanwhile, showed some nice velocity in his return from Tommy John surgery, but walked two of the four hitters he faced. Eventual winning pitcher Jared Toby also allowed some hard contact in the ninth, but was bailed out by a Fire baserunning blunder.
  • On the positive side, Ethan DeCaster, Nolan Blackwood, Alex Lange, and Anthony Castro combined to strike out seven hitters across 4 23 scoreless innings.