KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Detroit Tigers rookie Spencer Torkelson watched the dugout.
“Come on baby!” He shouted.
The 22-year-old had just crushed a second-pitch lead from Kansas City Royals starter Brad Keller for a two-run homer left in the seventh inning. He celebrated at the plate with 38-year-old Miguel Cabrera, who just won the 599th double and 2,995th hit of his career.
“It was awesome,” Torkelson said. “Truly special moment. This round doesn’t happen without his double.”
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The combination of left-handed Tarik Skubal’s outing, Cabrera’s 599th brace and Torkelson’s 432-foot big volley unlocked a 2-1 win for the Tigers on Friday night in the second of four games at Kauffman Stadium.
“It’s a big emotional hit,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We play so many close games against these guys. A big swing like that rocked the dugout, and I love it when players show emotion, especially Tork. He’s been under a lot of stress over the of the past 10 days trying to get himself up and running. A great way to mark his arrival.
The Tigers (4-4) trailed until the seventh, when Torkelson threw his second MLB homer.
“I want to see as many circuits out of Tork as possible,” Skubal said. “He was a big fly, a big bomb, and obviously that wins us the game there. … He knows he belongs, and everyone at this club feels like they belong too. He can prove it and go back at any time.”
Skubal, meanwhile, accomplished everything he was supposed to do in his second start of the season, a well-deserved rebound performance after being roughed up by the Chicago White Sox in his first outing.
He hit 16 on the first pitch of the 22 batters he faced, posted a 72.2% strike rate, mixed his pitches masterfully, produced seven strikeouts and left the game in sixth inning with zero earned runs.
“Super aggressive,” Hinch said. “He came in and established himself in the strike zone, which put them in swing mode, then he had the bad slider, threw in some good changes, the bike was there.”
The Tigers couldn’t reward Skubal with a win for his strong outing because of Keller, who nearly went seven scoreless innings and was untouchable for most of the night. Keller finished with seven two-run ball frames on three hits, two walks and five strikeouts.
If it hadn’t been for Torkelson’s home run, the Tigers would have been shut out. Skubal gave up a run in the fourth inning, even though it was an unearned run due to shortstop Harold Castro’s error.
“We made the only mistake that hurt us,” Hinch said. “Fortunately, we overcame that.”
Holding a 2-1 lead, right-handed relievers Joe Jimenez and Michael Fulmer pitched the eighth and ninth innings scoreless. Fulmer recorded his first save of the season, having won 14 last year.
Skubal went through the first 11 batters he faced, dispatching them in order. He took a 0-2 lead against Salvador Perez with two outs in the fourth, but the at-bat resulted in a single.
“I felt a lot more in sync,” Skubal said. “I felt like the last outing, my legs didn’t match my upper body. I was in quite a lot of pain the next day, and that’s abnormal for me. My upper body was more sore than usual.
“It just means something is not connected and my upper body is overcompensated. I just felt more in sync. I felt pretty good today.”
Perez hit a 1-2 slider for a grounder in left field, as the ball deflected off Castro’s glove. On the next play, Andrew Benintendi reached safely on a field error from Castro, setting two runners.
Next, Carlos Santana chose on a practice line to right field, putting the Royals ahead 1-0.
Prior to the fourth, Skubal had six strikeouts in his first three innings.
The 25-year-old worked around a two-out single from Nicky Lopez in the fifth and came back for the sixth. He retired Bobby Witt Jr., gave Perez a brace and forced Benintendi out.
Hinch retired Skubal on his debut with Santana, a due switch hitter, and Perez at third base. Santana hits better against lefties than righties, so Hinch replaced Skubal with right-handed reliever Jacob Barnes.
Barnes ended the inning with two pitches.
“Every time the name is called, you want to do your job,” said Barnes, who pitched 1⅓ innings scoreless. “But when it’s leveraged, it’s much better. It always feels good when you’re done and you’ve done your job.”
For Skubal’s 90 throws (65 strikes), he used 35 sliders (39%), 20 four-seam fastballs (22%), 19 pellets (21%), nine curveballs (10%) and seven changes ( 8%). He racked up 12 swings and misses: six sliders, one four-seam, three curves and two shifts.
He also had 15 strikes called, including nine sliders.
“It generated a lot of positive things,” Skubal said of his slider. “I feel like I stole a lot of first-pitch strikes with it.”
His slider averaged 88.8mph – 2.3mph faster than last season’s average. Skubal rarely threw his slider on his first outing, turning to the offering for six of his 79 shots against the White Sox. Skubal also increased the heat – by 4 mph – on his curve, which averaged 77.8 mph.
“I was able to throw it in the third when I needed to, to generate swing and miss,” Skubal said of his curveball. “And I was able to land him in the strike zone when I needed to. So that was good.”
His fastball averaged 95.1 mph, peaking at 97.3 mph.