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Tigers vs. Athletics Preview: Tarik Skubal looks to get on track out west

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After a rocky night in Cleveland, Skubal looks to bounce back against the A’s as a four-game set gets underway.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Philadelphia Phillies Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Well, well, well, within a span of three days we certainly pinballed from misery to exuberance with our Detroit Tigers. Those were some fun games in Houston. The team got great starting pitching, mashed the baseball, saw a little batted ball luck go their way, and the bullpen...hung on.

Now the Tigers wing west to complete their 10 game road trip, taking a .500 record into Oakland for a four-game matchup with the Athletics. They’re probably going to be a weary club at this point. Still the spark they found to take it to the Astros in Minute Maid Park after getting big-brothered in Cleveland is a nice early sign that the club is going to remain a far more interesting watch than in recent years.

As for the always good, never quite great Athletics, they once again feature a deep roster that doesn’t wow you with star power but somehow fits together into something more than the sum of its parts. They play tough defense. They have outstanding two-way players like Matt Chapman and Ramon Laureano, and the back of the bullpen as usual features some stellar arms along with crafty veterans like Sergio Romo and Yusmeiro Petit. No doubt the Tigers are in for a battle on the Bay.

Detroit Tigers (6-6) at Oakland Athletics (5-7)

Time/Place: 9:40 p.m. EDT, Oakland Coliseum

SB Nation Site: Athletics Nation

Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, 97.1 The Ticket

Pitching Matchup: LHP Tarik Skubal (0-1, 7.71 ERA) vs. LHP Sean Manaea (0-1, 5.06 ERA)

Game 13 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% HR/9 FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% HR/9 FIP fWAR
Skubal 9.1 17.1 12.2 2.89 7.43 -0.1
Manaea 10.2 17.4 8.7 1.69 5.21 0

Tarik Skubal’s work through two starts has been shaky, but we’ve seen him in much more effective form both last season and in spring camp, so a turnaround still seems pretty likely. His mechanics, and thus his stuff and command, have been out of whack and it’s been hard to evaluate much as he’s simply not locating pitches well at all, particularly early in counts. We’ve noted that his velocity and especially his spin rate are down so far this season, and that’s made his fastball less effective than it needs to be. But if you can’t locate it anyway, that’s the primary issue.

On the plus side, the left-hander has shown a good slider this spring, ditched his changeup for a splitter, and is mixing in a big 12-6 curveball more often as well. He’s still learning and putting it together out there. If he can get his timing sorted and spot his stuff effectively, he’s going to do well even without quite his best fastball. Hopefully that starts today.

The Athletics will counter with a big southpaw of their own, the six-foot, five-inch Sean Manaea. Despite his frame, Manaea isn’t much of a power pitcher. He mixes a low 90’s, shifty looking sinker, with heavy doses of a changeup that has plenty of depth at 85 mph. Everything he throws is low spin, including a deceptive curveball that looks more like a slider. It’s an interesting, but hardly overpowering, mix delivered with some angle and deception.

Manaea keeps the ball on the ground while his teammates wear you down with quality defense. He throws a lot of first pitch strikes, limits the walks, and generally has a style that forces you to string together hits.

Key Matchup: Tarik Skubal vs. Tarik Skubal

The Tigers should be able to push across some runs against Manaea even if the hot-hitting doesn’t carry right over for Houston to Oakland. But barring more fireworks, their best hope of winning this one is strong defense and Skubal doing what it takes to pound the zone with quality first pitch strikes. The Tigers will have an outfield that can cover the Coliseum’s outfield—they may even add Derek Hill to the mix for that purpose if Nomar Mazara hits the injured list—and he would be wise to put them to use by damning the torpedoes and throwing first pitch strikes with a diverse mix. If he can do that the Tigers will be in position to carry on their winning ways.