Detroit Tigers Tarik Skubal knocks out MVVP Bryce Harper in 7-1 win

CLEARWATER, Florida — The Detroit Tigers at the top of the Philadelphia Phillies, 7-1, on Wednesday at BayCare Ballpark, improving to 5-5 (with two ties) in Grapefruit League play.

What happened

Left-handed Tarik Skubal started his third spring practice session and gave the Tigers momentum with a spectacular performance. He turned in four scoreless innings on three hits, walked one and struckout five.

“He was excellent,” said Tigers manager AJ Hinch. “I thought his intensity was in the season, and I thought he was in command. He has all spring, which is a good sign. They played most of their lineup, and I think today he has a had a lead which was pretty good to watch.”

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Skubal struckout Bryce Harper, the reigning MVP of the National League, on four pitches in the first inning, then struckout him again in the third inning. In the first, Harper was caught looking at a 95.6 mph fastball in the strike zone. In the third, he went down swinging on three consecutive sliders.

“It’s an MVP player coming out of an MVP year,” Skubal said. “The adrenaline runs a little higher when you’re up against those kinds of players. … It’s always good to make those pitches to that type of batter and get those results.”

The Tigers supported Skubal with three runs in the second inning.

Phillies starter Kyle Gibson knocked out the side in the first, but the Tigers wasted no time attacking him in the second. Jeimer Candelario led off with a double and Jonathan Schoop scored him with an one-out single for an 1-0 lead.

Riley Greene kept the Tigers rolling with a single to midfield. Torkelson followed with an RBI groundout (101.7 mph exit speed). Tucker Barnhart, who was hitting ninth, gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead with a two-run double.

Torkelson and Baez collided at the pitching mound and went for an infield pop-up with two outs in the fourth inning. Baez made the catch on a ball that should have been his the whole time.

“I don’t want it to happen, but I didn’t panic,” Hinch said. “We want them to communicate with each other. I heard Javy say it. I don’t think Tork did. Maybe he called it at the same time. Good thing it couldn’t hurt.’

Both players stayed in the game and avoided injuries.

“If Javy wasn’t so good at baseball, he should be a middle linebacker,” Torkelson said. “It was like bumping into a brick wall. But yeah, we called it at the same time.”

To start

The secret to Skubal’s success on Wednesday, one of the better achievements of his professional career, was his ability to launch attacks with his entire arsenal. Of his 66 pitches, 47 went for strikes.

“I tapped my aggression just from a mental standpoint,” Skubal said. “I tried to be a bit more aggressive, but still under control, and I felt pretty good today when I did it.”

During Harper’s two strikeouts, Skubal defeated Johan Camargo (looking, 84.3 mph change-up), JT Realmuto (swinging, 93.9 mph four-seam fastball), and Rhys Hoskins (swinging, 83.6 mph change-up).

His fastball, slider and changeup stood out.

In the third inning, Bryson Stott and Kyle Schwarber produced back-to-back singles with one out. Although Skubal had two runners on base, he didn’t seem overwhelmed. He struckout five consecutive strikeouts and retired the next two batters: Jean Segura (fly to left field with fastball) and Harper (swing strikeout with slider).

“I had no intention of throwing more sliders than curveballs,” Skubal said. “It’s just, my slider was pretty good today, so I’m going to ride that. I’m trying to get out. It’s a normal game. It’s not like I’m going to work on a specific field. I’m busy with things , but I’m also trying to get out, so I threw a lot more sliders than curveballs. The slider was good.”

Skubal worked around a two-out single from Didi Gregorius in the fourth to close out his performance.

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For his 66 pitches, Skubal used 31 four-seam fastballs (47%), 18 sliders (27%), 11 changeups (17%), four sinkers (6%) and two knuckle curveballs (3%). He registered 11 swings and misses: three four-seamers, seven sliders and one changeup. He also registered 16 so-called strikes: eight four-seamers, four sliders and four changeups.

His fastball averages 93.8 mph.

on the plate

The Tigers increased their lead to 4-0 in the third inning, when Javier Baez doubled – his fourth of spring practice – to defeat Robbie Grossman. Baez registered his hit on a first-pitch sinker from Gibson.

Three more runs scored in the fifth, thanks to RBI’s by Miguel Cabrera (double), Derek Hill (single) and Torkelson (sac-fly). Torkelson ended 0-for-2 with two RBI’s; Greene was 2-for-2.

Candelario and Hill also had two hit performances.

Greene hit .412 (7-for-17) with two doubles, one triple, two home runs, 4 RBI’s, three walks and five strikeouts in nine games. Torkelson hits .261 (6-for-23) with four doubles, three RBI’s, one walk and four strikeouts in 10 games.

The Tigers had seven runs on 13 hits and one walk.

on the hill

Righthanded reliever Jose Cisnero, who took over for Skubal, came in for his second spring appearance. He threw a scoreless fifth inning and walked one with one strikeout. His fastball averaged 93.4 mph, although he maxed out at 94.7 mph.

The average speed for all fields of Cisnero was significantly lower than last season. The same was true for right-wing Michael Fulmer, who pitched the sixth inning. His fastball averaged 91.7 mph, with a maximum of 92 mph.

On Fulmer’s first-pitch 92 mph fastball, Harper drilled a 365-foot home run into right field for the Phillies’ lone run. Fulmer threw nine sliders, three four-seam fastballs, two curveballs, and two sinkers.

“These are spring workouts that I don’t dive too heavily into,” Hinch said. “I want them to bring in their work. Fulmer was ambushed, but I thought Cisnero’s stuff got a little tangled. I actually think it’s the best ball Fulmer has had yet.”

Left-handed Gregory Soto needed 13 pitches — nine sinkers, four sliders — for a scoreless seventh. He knocked out Camargo (waving, 89.6 mph slider) and Matt Vierling (looking, 89.2 mph slider).

Lefty reliever Andrew Chafin was scratched from his scheduled outing with a strained cross, but is expected to throw in the coming days.

Three stars

1. Skubal, 2. Greene, 3. Barnhart.

Next one

Thursday vs. Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldLearn more about the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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