CHICAGO — For the first time since early June, Detroit Tigers left-hander Tarik Skubal completed six innings and looked like the better version of himself on the mound.
The rejuvenated offense supported its starting pitcher with four runs in the top of the seventh — all with two outs — and totaled seven runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
The Tigers won their sixth game in a row, beating the Chicago White Sox, 7-5, in the second of four games at Guaranteed Rate Field. Detroit improved to 36-47 overall and has a 12-7 record since June 18.
“We’re playing good baseball and expect to win every single game,” Skubal said. “The focus is going to be on tomorrow’s game and doing everything we can to get another one. That’s been the focus all year, results just haven’t been there. We’ve always been prepared to win every single game.”
After two outs, the Tigers began their four-run seventh inning with Jonathan Schoop’s single and Spencer Torkelson’s full-count walk. Jeimer Candelario, hitting .191 in 65 games, put the Tigers ahead, 3-2, with a single to right field.
His hit chased White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito.
“It always feels good to contribute with the team,” Candelario said. “You want to contribute. You want to be in the lineup every single day. You want to produce. This is the big leagues. We got to productive. We got to win ballgames. We got to perform. That’s what we’re working really hard to do, and we still got a lot of games left.”
Right-handed reliever Joe Kelly entered, and Willi Castro greeted him with a two-strike single to drive in Torkelson for a 4-2 advantage. A full-count walk from Riley Greene loaded the bases.
Javier Báez fed off the boos from the fans in Chicago.
“His ability to thrive in those moments is very unique,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Most people — players, coaches, me — don’t love that environment because it can get a little intimidating, but Javy thrives in it. He asks for it. He delivers when it happens. He loves the big moment.”
Báez ripped a first-pitch curveball from Kelly to left field for a two-run double and a 6-2 lead. Upon arriving at second base, he tossed his arms in the air to taunt the crowd that’s been taunting him since Friday’s game.
“I love it,” Skubal said. “It feels like every time he gets booed, he plays better. I don’t know if fans want to keep booing him, but for me, every road trip that we go on, I hope every fan boos him. I feel like he plays better that way.”
The Tigers added their final run in the eighth inning, as Eric Haase turned on the jets and scored from first base on an error by center fielder Luis Robert with two outs.
In the bottom of the eighth, the White Sox countered by scoring three runs with two outs. All three were charged to right-handed reliever Jason Foley. Left-hander Tyler Alexander got the final out — striking out right-handed pinch-hitter Andrew Vaughn on three pitches — but not before giving up two RBI singles.
Righty Michael Fulmer put the tying run on base but escaped the jam for a scoreless ninth inning and his second save. He struck out Robert with a slew of sliders; Jose Abreu flied out to end the game.
“Today of all days, I felt like I was trying to feel for the slider,” Fulmer said. “In the bullpen, I was trying to feel for it a little more than normal. … (Runners on) first and third, I found the adjustment, whatever it was. I had to.”
Entering Friday’s outing, Skubal had a 9.00 ERA — 23 runs in 23 innings — over his past five starts, from June 12 to last Sunday. During that stretch, he posted 14 walks and 20 strikeouts.
In his first 11 starts, the 25-year-old commanded a 2.33 ERA with 10 walks and 70 strikeouts in 65⅔ innings.
Facing the White Sox, one of the most dangerous offenses against left-handed pitchers, Skubal’s results resembled the production he showcased at the beginning of the season. He allowed two runs on six hits and one walks with seven strikeouts in six innings, throwing 61 of 91 pitches for strikes.
“I felt like I used everything pretty well,” Skubal said. “I was able to slow them down and speed them up, and then throw some changeups in some fastball counts and command my slider. I thought my slider was pretty good today, and that’s the pitch that hasn’t been great for me lately.”
Bounce back for Skubal
In the first inning, Robert crushed a two-run home run off Skubal’s first-pitch 93.8 mph four-seam fastball. The pitched traveled right down the middle, and Robert didn’t miss his opportunity for a 2-0 lead.
He smacked the fastball with a 111.4 mph exit velocity. The ball traveled 449 feet to left field.
“I threw the pitch right down the middle,” Skubal said. “That’s what that guy is going to do.”
Three of the first four batters recorded hits: Tim Anderson (single), Robert (home run) and Abreu (double).
After Abreu’s double, Skubal locked in.
“At some point, you stand up and fight for yourself,” Hinch said. “He didn’t make pitches early, and it got him, and then all of a sudden he found his slider, he found his changeup, he even spun the slow curveball which has been non-existent the last couple starts.”
He seemed unpredictable with his pitch mix. His changeup and two-seam fastball helped him dominate the Chicago’s lineup, full of right-handed hitters. There weren’t any lefties in the lineup.
Avoiding further damage, Skubal bounced back by striking out Eloy Jimenez (swinging, two-seamer) and Adam Engel (looking, two-seamer) to complete his 21-pitch first inning.
In the third, Skubal faced Robert and Abreu for the second time. Robert flied out to right field, and Abreu — in an eight-pitch battle — struck out swinging on a 90.1 mph slider.
“I was able to command that pitch,” Skubal said of his two-seamer. “I was able to run it where it looked like a ball and came back in. That sets up the slider in that same location down and in, where I can make the plate look a little wider than it really is.”
Skubal worked around a walk in the fourth inning and two single in the fifth. A challenge from Hinch awarded the Tigers with their third out in the fifth, as Anderson came off the base — only for a moment — while sliding into second on Robert’s single.
Initially, Anderson was ruled safe.
To conclude his outing, Skubal fired a three up, three down sixth inning. He struck out Jose Abreu (swinging, changeup) and Eloy Jimenez (looking, changeup) before Engel lined out for the third out.
“That pitch is kind of the equalizer,” Skubal said of his changeup.
For Skubal’s 91 pitches, he threw 27 sliders (30%), 23 two-seam fastballs (25%), 18 changeups (20%), 17 four-seam fastballs (19%) and six knuckle curves (7%). He recorded 15 swings and misses: five sliders, two two-seamers, five changeups, two four-seamers and one curve.
He also got 13 called strikes.
Training by two runs, the Tigers tied the game, 2-2, in the sixth inning on Candelario’s two-run home run. He hammered a changeup from Giolito with a 102.8 mph exit velocity.
The ball carried 409 feet to right field.
“The homer woke everybody up,” Hinch said.
Before Candelario went deep, Giolito was in complete control of his outing. He struck out the side in the first inning, and the Tigers had just one hit — Haase’s second-inning single — before the sixth.
Torkelson set up Candelario’s homer by drawing a full-count walk.
“I’ve faced him a lot in my career, so you got to make an adjustment,” Candelario said. “I didn’t sit on the changeup. I just tried to see the fastball and hit it all the way. He threw the changeup there, and I was ready to react.”
Giolito allowed five runs on five hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in 6⅔ innings, throwing 65 of 94 pitches for strikes.