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Game 26 Preview: Tarik Skubal looks to build on a rocky debut

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Cleveland rolls out Carlos Carrasco to try and continue his dominance over the Tigers

Detroit Tigers v Houston Astros Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Tarik Skubal’s major league debut on Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox was far from ideal, but neither were the circumstances. Generally, teams prefer to call up high end pitching prospects when they’re stretched out and pitching well, and if possible, in something of a favorable matchup.

Instead, just 10 days after throwing his first two innings of intersquad action, and after missing all of the preseason summer camp waiting to test negative after a nasty bout with COVID-19, Skubal found himself a surprise call-up against a red-hot young lineup stacked with right-handed power bats. Leadoff man Tim Anderson teed off on Skubal’s third major league offering, and things quickly unraveled for him in the second inning. He struggled with his command, and was understandably rattled coming straight from a Double-A level where he was untouchable in 2019, with only a few brief simulated appearances in Toledo with which to prepare.

Skubal generally presents as a composed, focused, hard-working young pitcher, and he’s unlikely to be too rattled by some early struggles. He’s battled through plenty of adversity along the way already. But these are distinctly tough circumstances for an introduction to the majors as he works to build up his arm and dial in his command.

Presumably, Skubal must have looked pretty sharp in Toledo for the Tigers to pull the trigger on the promotion. His stuff is good enough to handle major league hitters. As long as he can mix in his changeup and spot his fastball more effectively, he should have a better time of it. So, we’ll ride with hard-throwing lefty on Sunday afternoon and look for a more competitive short outing against Cleveland.

Detroit Tigers (10-15) at Cleveland Indians (17-10)

Time/Place: 1:10 pm ET, Progressive Field

SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Probables: LHP Tarik Skubal (0-1, 18.00 ERA) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (2-2, 3.71 ERA)

Game 26 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Skubal (2019 Double-A) 42.1 1.26 48.2 10.6 0.43 --
Carrasco (2020) 26.2 4.19 30.7 12.3 1.35 0.4

Carlos Carrasco seems like an unstoppable force who has been terrorizing the Tigers for a decade. In truth, it hasn’t been that long, but since 2014, and despite battling leukemia and several injuries, Carrasco has returned time and again to post really strong numbers. Now 33 years of age, “Cookie” holds a career 3.42 FIP, standing tall as the veteran leader on a team who has long since bid adieu to stars like Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley, who once overshadowed him.

Last year, Carrasco finally got bit by the home run bug as his fastball velocity declined, and his velo is down even a bit further early this season. The veteran right-hander has responded wisely by cutting back his fastball usage, and leaning into his split change and breaking balls. While a little more hittable, he’s also more unpredictable. It’s a far cry from his days as a wild hard-thrower who pumped fastballs with abandon.

Unfortunately for the Tigers he’s shown how a veteran pitcher with nasty stuff and often underrated command can continue to baffle even good hitting teams. For the Tigers, that doesn’t bode well at all.

Carrasco tends toward his fourseam fastball, but will occasionally run a sinker in there as well, and is averaging about 92 miles per hour, several ticks off his prime heat in his 20’s. The Tigers would love to force him to throw that pitch a little more, but to do so, they’re going to have to lay off his split change and curveball, which he will spot for strikes early in counts. That’s a tall order for a free-swinging and badly strikeout prone lineup.

As for Tarik Skubal, his short outing on Sunday will be determined by whether he can spot his fastball and changeup. If he can, the Tigers may get a couple of nice innings. If he gets into trouble quickly again, manager Ron Gardenhire better have a good backup plan. But we’re not concerned about Skubal’s raw stuff.

His first run through Statcast does give us a few metrics to confirm the scouting data. He averaged 95.2 miles per hour in his debut, premium velocity for a left-handed starter. His 2416 rpm spin rate gives a hint as to why the riding fourseamer wrecked Eastern League hitters with such authority last year. Meanwhile his changeup averaged 82.8 mph, which is an excellent speed differential from the fastball, and has a very low spin rate, which generally produces above average depth as well.

Those two pitches are key against a lineup that has some weapons, but is less fearsome against left-handed pitchers than the White Sox appear to be. If Skubal can settle in and command them both, the Indians are going to have their hands full the first time through the order.

Key Matchup: Ron Gardenhire vs. his bullpen

Obviously, the Tigers have leaned hard on their bullpen so far this year. A pretty deep group of solid performances haven’t been enough to avoid the staff getting worn down, and beyond the top guys it’s impossible to know what to expect.

However, Daniel Norris hasn’t pitched since the 18th, so presumably he’ll be the one to take over from Skubal. That bodes well for their chances of getting through this one even if following a lefty with another lefty isn’t ideal. You’d prefer to at least flip Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez around between outings.

So far, Norris has been bumped from the rotation based on innings limits, only to end up in long relief of other guys on innings limits. However, he’s been quite good as well, posting a 2.64 FIP through four short appearances. His velocity has returned from its multi-year absence, and Norris has looked to his changeup as a weapon, easing pressure on his slider.

If Skubal can get through the lineup once without too much trouble, Norris is a good bet to get them to the late innings in good shape. With so many hitters scuffling, and Carrasco on the mound, the lefty duo is obviously going to have to put together a strong combined outing to give the Tigers a shot at winning the series.

Prediction

Other than Jeimer Candelario, the current lineup has struggled with Carrasco in recent years and their bullpen is less taxed at this point. A few early runs may be all the Indians need to take the series.