The finale of the opening three-game series against the Chicago White Sox, in which the teams had already traded wins the previous two days, saw Tarik Skubal face off against Michael Kopech on a chilly 48°F (9°C) afternoon. In the end, the Tigers’ highly-regarded division rivals ended up easily winning the game 10-1, and the series, two games to one. Back to the drawing board it is, then.
Skubal’s 2021 season was solid, with a couple of exceptions: a shade below 3 walks per 9 innings, and a shade above 2 home runs per 9 innings. A good deal of the damage done against him, especially in the home run department, was by righties: 34 of his 35 home runs surrendered last year were to right-handed hitters, whose OPS was over .800 against Skubal. Mind you, he averaged a little more than a strikeout per inning, so that was definitely something upon which to build.
Last season, Kopech mostly worked out of the bullpen: he made four starts against 40 relief appearances as he was coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2019 and an opt-out in 2020. He struck out 103 batters in only 69 1⁄3 innings of work in 2021, though, which certainly gets a person’s attention. This spring he only threw four innings combined in two starts, so White Sox manager Tony LaRussa obviously wasn’t looking to get many innings out of him. However, pre-surgery, he could bring triple-digit heat, so there’s a lot to like about his arm.
Tim Anderson — who else? — roped the very first pitch from Skubal into the left-field corner for an easy stand-up double. Anderson advanced to third on a single to center by Luis Robert, who stole second as Anderson held at third. José Abreu then hit a soft chopper to second base, and Jonathan Schoop’s only play was to first as Anderson scored. Eloy Jiménez hit towering foul fly ball to right field, which Robbie Grossman caught and Robert came home on the rare foul sacrifice fly, putting the Tigers in a 2-0 hole early yet again.
Skubal found his changeup in the second inning, getting more swings and misses, striking out three. However, since he also surrendered a double to Adam Engel in the frame, it did not qualify as “striking out the side.”
After a Miguel Cabrera walk in the bottom of the second, Víctor Reyes showed off his swing changes by bashing a one-hop liner off the scoreboard in right-center, scoring Cabrera easily and narrowing the gap to 2-1.
Robert hit into a fielder’s choice in the third, then Abreu doubled off the right-center field wall. Robert’s slide in a bang-bang play at the plate was just a little too good, as the throw short-hopped Tucker Barnhart and he whiffed, pushing Chicago’s lead back to two. Jiménez walked, putting runners on first and second with one out; Abreu advanced to third on a fly ball to right, and scored on a hard ground ball that hit off Jeimer Candelario’s glove at third.
Skubal wasn’t fooling many hitters, with plenty of hard contact and a lot of pitches thrown (62 through three innings); that ain’t gonna win too many ball games. His troubles continued into the fourth, as Reese McGuire reached base on an error and Danny Mendick doubled him home on the next pitch, and the game sat at 5-1 in the middle of the fourth.
That’d be the end of the day for Skubal, and his final line wasn’t pretty: 5 runs (4 earned), 7 hits, one walk, three strikeouts. Go get ‘em next time, kid.
Making his major-league debut in the fifth inning was Elvin “the other E-Rod” Rodríguez. If you’ll recall, he came from the Angels waaaaay back in the Justin Upton trade in 2017 as the player to be named later. He climbed the minor-league ladder one rung per year, spending 2018 at West Michigan, 2019 in Lakeland, didn’t play in 2020 (because nobody did), and had a rough 2021 in Erie. He had decently uneventful first inning of his major league career, walking one but getting a couple of groundouts and a flyout.
Kyle Crick, probably no relation to Francis, took over for Kopech in the fifth. He dispatched the Tigers 1-2-3, including a sensational spin-o-rama play by Josh Harrison, the lone infielder on the left side against Tucker Barnhart.
You gotta tip your cap there.
In the seventh, Rodríguez got into trouble with another Anderson double (obviously), and after a walk to Abreu, Jiménez flared a single into no-man’s-land in shallow center, scoring Anderson. Andrew Vaughn followed up with a three-run home run just over the left-field fence, breaking the game wide open. This was Vaughn’s second home run of the series; keep an eye out for this guy. Rony García eventually took over for Rodríguez, and finally put the long inning to bed. García’s eighth went well, too.
Continuing the trend of pitchers making their major-league debuts today, longtime White Sox minor leaguer Tanner Banks saw action under the bright lights for the first time. He was drafted in 2014 and has been slogging it out in the bus leagues since then. The first batter he faced in the bottom of the eighth was Reyes, who he walked — which was the first Tiger baserunner since the second inning. His first major-league strikeout victim: Torkelson.
Jason Foley took over in the ninth, and Abreu hit a pop-up that landed in the middle between four guys wearing the Olde English D. Call those fly balls, boys! Abreu eventually scored, the score became 10-1, and this ink-stained scribe was starting to think the Tigers might not be victorious in this particular contest.
The Tigers’ ninth-inning rally — a two-out walk to Candelario — ultimately wasn’t enough to overcome the deficit, and that was the ball game.
FYI, Tomorrow’s Game Time Against Boston is 5:10 pm
Dan Dickerson: “Come on out after work tomorrow if you’re working downtown. Or, leave work early, we’re always in favour of that.”
Jim Price: “We sure are!”
DD: “You need a note to get out of work early? Jim will write you one.”
So, there you go, Detroiters. You literally have no excuse not to go.
Bring On the Robot Umps
I’ve always used this headline at least partly in jest, but seeing as how this might actually be a possibility in the near-ish future, maybe I should use it a little more judiciously. Pitch #1, called strike one, and #4, a called strike three, on Spencer Torkelson in the fifth. It wasn’t a good showing by the home plate umpires in this series either.
Y’know what? I take it back. BRING ON THE ROBOT UMPS.
Happy Ty Madden Day to all those who celebrate.— Dan Hasty (@ThatDanHasty) April 10, 2022
The @tigers Top-10 prospect and product of @TexasBaseball takes the mound for the @wmwhitecaps in his professional debut.
Our broadcast can be heard by clicking the link: https://t.co/dnjRl4DKm5 pic.twitter.com/Xx2K2OXa46
Cristian Santana with a ground-rule double down in Lakeland. Went 407 and left the bat at 108.3 MPH.— Tigers Minor League Report (@tigersMLreport) April 10, 2022
Not bad for a kid who doesn’t turn 19 until November.
Notes and Numbers
- Elvin Rodriguez is a slender fellow: 6’ 3”, but only 180 pounds. I mean, he’s no Rusty Meacham, but as Sparky Anderson remarked about Meacham, and I’m paraphrasing here, “The chances of him getting hit with a comebacker are pretty small.”
- In case you missed it, 20 year old Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher Roki Sasaki threw a perfect game in which he struck out 19 batters. By my math, that’s a Game Score of 106, which is just mind-bogglingly great. Well done!
- On this day in 1872, the very first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska. I gotta tell you, when I think about Nebraska (which admittedly isn’t often), trees don’t readily spring to mind. I guess that’s why they need a tree-planting holiday out there, eh?