The Tigers’ offense finally broke loose in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader with the Oakland A’s. Powered by another excellent start from Tarik Skubal, the offense eventually wore down Frankie Montas and won pretty easily 6-0.
Skubal was flat out dominant once again. Using his reshaped slider more and more each start, the hard-throwing lefty has made himself a lot less predictable, particularly early in counts, and it’s paying dividends. He got nine swinging strikes in this one, and consistently got ahead with quality first pitch strikes, mainly using the fastballs and slider.
Skubal refused to give in to A’s hitters in a few ABs, leading to an uncharacteristically high walk total of three for the outing. He showed his improving dexterity in pitching backward, setting hitters up with sliders and changeups only to blow them away once they got into protect mode. Over seven innings of work Skubal allowed just three hits and struck out five in shutting them out. In the early going he’s positioning himself near the top of the American League.
Early on, it looked like another rough day at the office for the Tigers’ offense. Jonathan Schoop rapped a single back through the box in the second inning, and Tucker Barnhart led off the third with a single, but nothing further came of either inning.
Finally in the top of the fifth—the Tigers were the road team in this one, a makeup game from the original first week of the season before the lockout pushed it back—a Schoop walk got them started. Willi Castro blooped a single into shallow left field and shortstop Elvis Andrus and left fielder Chad Pinder got into a nasty collision trying to haul it in. After the delay, in which both guys miraculously stayed in the game, Barnhart dropped down a bunt to third to load the bases.
We’ve seen this show before, and no doubt Tigers fans were bracing themselves for a squander, but Derek Hill smoked a 400 foot fly ball to center field for a sac fly to score Schoop, and Castro advanced to third. A Robbie Grossman ground out plated Castro, and then Austin Meadows walked on four pitches. The possibility for a big inning collapsed on a Javy Báez ground out, but the Tigers had their first lead in some time.
The A’s got a leadoff hit from Elvis Andrus in the bottom half, looking to turn things right around. However, a 6-4-3 double play ball off the bat of Cristian Pache snuffed their hopes of a rally. Skubal punched out Tony Kemp to end the frame and send it to the sixth.
After his brutal start to the season, Jonathan Schoop has started to make more hard contact in recent games. With two outs in the sixth, he got into a Frankie Montas slider and drilled it for a solo shot down the left field line. The blast was Schoop’s second of the year, and make it 3-0 Tigers.
Again, apart from a two-out walk to Ramon Laureano, Skubal turned the inning around quickly. He was rewarded with more run support.
Robbie Grossman drew a one out walk after Derek Hill struck out, and that marked the end of Frankie Montas’ day. The Tigers had done pretty well against the budding A’s ace, but they didn’t mind seeing him leave the game. Austin Meadows and Javy Báez greeted reliever Kirby Snead with back-to-back singles that loaded the bases, and then came the big hit they needed. Jeimer Candelario went down for a 3-2 sinker about eight inches below the strike zone and drilled it up the left center field gap to clear the bases. 6-0 Tigers.
Skubal finished out the seventh with another quick 10-pitch inning, and Joe Jiménez took over for the eighth. Jiménez got Pache whiffing over a slider for the first out, and then recorded a quick pair of outs to pass the baton.
Candelario drilled a single in the top of the ninth with two outs, but advanced no farther. That left it up to Drew Hutchison to finish off. He gave up a two-out double to catcher Sean Murphy, but Christian Bethancourt lined out to Derek Hill in center field to end it.