Why Detroit Tigers rookie Tarik Skubal was ahead of the curve in 2020

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers left-hander Tarik Skubal tested positive for COVID-19 and missed all of July's summer camp. Once he was medically cleared, he went to the alternate training site in Toledo at the end of the month, where he met up with 2018 draftmate Casey Mize.

A couple of weeks later, the Tigers announced Skubal's addition to the active roster. He made his major league debut the Aug. 18 against the Chicago White Sox. He got his first win Aug. 29, witnessed manager Ron Gardenhire retire Sept. 19 and pitched in the team's final game of the 2020 season.

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It's been a heck of a ride.

There were some bumps along the way, but for the most part, the 23-year-old exceeded expectations — a sign of even more success to come.

"A lot of things going on, a lot of things happening," Skubal said Sunday after the Tigers' 3-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals. "I still look up at some point during the game, and I'm like, 'Wow, I'm in the major leagues, this is an MLB game.' I think that'll slow down for me a bit the more times I get an opportunity to throw. But I'm really excited.

[ Skubal reveals his fight vs. COVID-19: 'It did get scary' ]

"I'm as motivated as ever in my entire life for next year."

Tarik Skubal allowed four earned runs over two innings in his first career start. He has allowed four more earned runs in 13 1/3 innings since then.

Skubal finished his first season with a 5.63 ERA in 32 innings and eight games (seven starts). He had 37 strikeouts, allowing 11 walks and nine home runs.

For subscribers: The special trait Alan Trammell and Jim Leyland see in Tarik Skubal

The thorn in his side was a Sept. 10 outing in a doubleheader with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he lost control of his pitches. He gave up six runs in two innings. Without that start on his resume, he would've had a 4.20 ERA.

In six of Skubal's eight appearances, he allowing two earned runs or less. The only other frustrating start came in his debut, giving up four runs in two innings to the White Sox.

The display of his 95-mph fastball, improved changeup and slider, which opponents only hit .182 against, gave a considerable boost to his potential for dominance.

Tigers pitcher Tarik Skubal pitches against the Twins during the first inning of Game 2 at Comerica Park on Saturday, August 29, 2020.

"This is a learning process," interim manager Lloyd McClendon said about Skubal and Mize on Sunday. "I think they got rid of the jitters, and as a result, they'll be better going into next year. They got to continue the learning curve and take away the good and the bad from this short stint. But I think both of those guys will be just fine. Someday, they'll be one and two in that rotation."

Getting his first taste of baseball's highest level, Skubal is taking what he learned back to his hometown in Arizona. Since his 2019 season for Double-A Erie, he has kept notes of each start and examines his notebook the next morning. 

He's going to be reading through his points of emphasis — command and consistency — quite a bit this fall and winter.

And Skubal, at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, is going to hit the weight room in hopes of continuing to transform his body before spring training begins.

"Taking the ball every fifth day is something I take pride in," Skubal said. "It's very important in terms of a health standpoint, too. I'm going to continue to take care of my body and get stronger this offseason and take that into spring training and, hopefully, next year."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content