KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Detroit Tigers rookie Spencer Torkelson looked to dugout.
“Come on baby!” he yelled.
The 22-year-old had just crushed a second-pitch sinker from Kansas City Royals starter Brad Keller for a two-run homerun to the left in the seventh inning. He celebrated on the home record with 38-year-old Miguel Cabrera, fresh from the 599th double and 2,995. hit in the career.
“It was amazing,” Torkelson said. “Really special moment. That round does not happen without his double.”
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The combination of left-hander Tarik Skubal’s outburst, Cabrera’s 599th double and Torkelson’s two-out 432-foot fly unlocked a 2-1 victory 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 matches against these guys. Such a big swing put a dent in the dugout and I love it when players show emotion, especially Tork. He has carried on a lot of stress over the last 10 days to get himself started. A great way to stamp his arrival. “
The Tigers (4-4) were trailing until the seventh when Torkelson launched his second MLB homerun.
“I want to see as many homers out of Tork as possible,” Skubal said. “It was a big fly, big bomb, and of course it wins us the battle there … He knows he belongs, and everyone in this clubhouse also feels he belongs. He can prove it and go far back when as. preferably. “
Skubal, meanwhile, achieved everything he needed in his second start of the season, a much-needed bounce-back performance after being hit hard by the Chicago White Sox in his first outing.
He fired 16 first-pitch attacks to the 22 strikers he met, had a strike rate of 72.2%, mixed his pitches masterfully, produced seven strikeouts and left the game in the sixth inning with zero earned runs.
“Super aggressive,” Hinch said. “He came in and established himself in the strike zone, which got them into swing mode, and then he has the ugly shooter, threw a few good changes, velo was there.”
The Tigers could not reward Skubal with a victory for his strong play due to Keller, who made almost seven pointless innings and was untouchable most of the evening. Keller finished with seven frames with a two-run ball on three hits, two walks and five strikeouts.
Had it not been for Torkelson’s homer, the Tigers would have been blank. Skubal cashed in a run in the fourth inning, even though it was an unearned run due to shortstop Harold Castro’s error.
“We made the one mistake that felt like it would hurt us,” Hinch said. “Fortunately, we overcame that.”
Right-handed relievers Joe Jimenez and Michael Fulmer retained a 2-1 lead, hitting pointless eighth and ninth innings. Fulmer logged his first save of the season after earning 14 of them last year.
Skubal crossed the first 11 batsmen he met and sent them down in order. He came ahead 0-2 against Salvador Perez with two outs in the fourth, but the match bat resulted in a single.
“I felt a lot more in sync,” Skubal said. “I felt like the last outing, my legs did not fit my upper body. I was quite sore the next day and that is abnormal for me. My upper body was more sore than normal.
“It just means something is not connected and my upper body is overcompensated. I just felt more synchronized. It felt pretty good today.”
Perez hit a 1-2 shot to a grounder in the left field as the ball deflected Castro’s glove. At the next game, Andrew Benintendi safely reached on a field error by Castro, putting two runners on.
Then Carlos Santana singled on a line drive to the right field and put the Royals ahead 1-0.
Before the fourth, Skubal had counted six strikeouts in his first three innings.
The 25-year-old worked around a two-out single from Nicky Lopez in the fifth and returned to the sixth. He retired Bobby Witt Jr., allowed a double to Perez and got Benintendi to ground.
Hinch removed Skubal from his start with Santana, a switch-hitter, due up and Perez at third base. Santana hits better against leftists than rightists, so Hinch replaced Skubal with right-hander Jacob Barnes.
Barnes finished the round with two places.
“Anytime the name gets called, you want to do your job,” said Barnes, who threw 1 pointless innings. “But when it’s a lever place, it’s much better. It always makes you feel comfortable when you’re done with it and you did your job.”
For Skubal’s 90 pitches (65 strikes), he used 35 sliders (39%), 20 four-stitch fastballs (22%), 19 sinkers (21%), nine curveballs (10%) and seven changeups (8%). He got 12 swings and misses: six shooters, a four-seamer, three curves and two changeups.
He also had 15 called strikes, including nine shooters.
“It generated a lot of positive things,” Skubal said of his shooter. “I feel like I stole a lot of first-pitch attacks with it.”
His shooter averaged 88.8 mph, 2.3 mph faster than last season’s average. Skubal rarely threw his shooter in his first outing and turned against the offer for six of his 79 spots against the White Sox. Skubal also turned up the heat – by 4 mph – on its curve, which averaged 77.8 mph.
“I was able to throw it in the dirt when I needed it, to generate a turn and miss,” Skubal said of his curve. “And I was able to land it in the strike zone when I needed it. So that was good.”
His fastball averaged 95.1 mph and reached a maximum of 97.3 mph.
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