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GIF Breakdown: Tarik Skubal’s MLB Debut In 20 GIFs

Nick Pollack outlines Tarik Skubal's MLB Debut in 2,200 words.

After weeks of teasing the masses, the Detroit Tigers sent ripples through the baseball community announcing the promotion of not one, but two exciting pitching prospects to make their debuts this week. I’ll be spending my Wednesday evening covering the MLB Debut of Casey Mizebut today we got a great look at Tarik Skubala southpaw with electric stuff.

Before the game began, I had a good idea of what to expect. I remember Skubal when I sat down with Trevor Hooth back in the spring to scout a few dozen pitching prospects, while Trevor also wrote a great piece at Bless You Boys outlining his strengths and weaknesses.

In short, mid 90s fastball, huge curveball, a slider that likes to go back-foot to right-handers, and a developing changeup but his cross-body release leads to volatile command. We’re only supposed to see 40-50 pitches this evening and I’m crossing my fingers it comes with pitches that wow us without too much volatility.

Here is Tarik Skubal’s MLB Debut in 20 GIFs.

 

First Inning

 

The first task for Skubal in the majors was Tim Andersona tough first out to earn. Here’s his first pitch in the majors:

Not terribly exciting at 94 mph – you will often see a guy push an extra tick or two in their first pitch given the adrenaline, but this was his normal 94 mph. Not bad and I’m glad to see he wasn’t violent or wild.

After missing a changeup well in the dirt to make it 1-1, Skubal went back to the heat, got it up-and-in as intended, but Tim Anderson gave a proper introduction to the big leagues:

Ouch. Don’t feel bad, Tarik, Boyd did the same thing in each of his last two starts against Anderson!

The first at-bats of games are often a cheat code for the opposing hitter. They know pitchers are generally looking to earn some strikes with their fastball first to help get them settled in and after missing so poorly with his changeup in the previous pitch, Anderson was dead red on a heater and crushed it. And it wasn’t a bad pitch! Fine, let’s put that one aside and focus on the next batter.

We got a first look at his curveball against Yoan Moncada and I’m a big fan of its shape:

Sure, ball one, but a good indication of what he can do with that breaker. He’ll earn a ton of first-pitch strikes against right-handers with that curveball away.

After missing a 95 mph fastball up, it’s 2-0 and Skubal went back to heat again. It landed in the middle and was slapped to center for a single.

Like we saw against Fernando Tatis Jr.on Monday night, don’t get behind on batters. It doesn’t lead to success.

Well, he fell to 2-0 again. This time via a fastball well too high and inside, followed by his second changeup of the game:

The framing makes this look worse as Skubal doesn’t look far from getting that changeup feel.

At 2-0, he jammed a fastball inside to Abreu for a foul ball, then leaned on his first slider of the night:

That’s not a good slider and you can tell Abreu was beat on it, but its location allowed Abreu to score a single. So far, his curveball has looked best with shift fastball command, a meh slider, and a changeup that hasn’t felt right yet. One run on the board with three hits allowed and two men on.

And we’re just 10 pitches in.

Eloy Jimenez stepped into the box and I was expected another curveball. Nope, 94 mph that fell too far inside as Skubal falls behind for the third straight batter. At 1-0, we saw the curveball and it was a great one:

Not a strike, but it looked like one for ages and earned a foul ball for a 1-1 count. I have to think Skubal turns to this pitch more when he needs an out.

He turned back to the heater and blew it by Eloy at 96 mph along the inside corner:

Mmmmm that pitched looks like 105 after dropping sub 80 mph effectively the pitch before. And hey, 96 mph! That’s cool.

With two strikes, Skubal fought with his slider and just couldn’t do what he wanted. Among a 96 mph fastball perfectly placed up-and-in that Eloy fouled off, Skubal took three tries to bury his slider into his ankles, but failed. Once too high that may have nipped the zone but called as ball two, and a pair that floated up and away. One was fouled off and the other…

That’s baseball, Suzyn. Man, that’s a horrible breaking ball – he went 0-3 executing it in the at-bat alone! – and it returned the first two outs of his career. I’m hoping he either turns away from that sweeper completely or finds the command of sliders down the line.

Starting off Edwin Encarnacion, Skubal went back to the heater, this time dialing it up to 97 mph:

97 mph! Yes down the middle, but that’s the kind of adrenaline based velocity I love to see. It makes me think it’ll turn to 94 mph later on instead of 91/92 if he was staying at 94 mph now.

But velocity is obviously not everything. The next four pitches all missed the plate, coming from a changeup, slider, and a pair of 96 mph heaters. The command just isn’t what we want it to be right now.

All I’m thinking about is his curveball. He’s thrown just two, each with great shapes to them. Sure, it’s more of a weapon against left-handers, but it should still do wonders against right-handers. It’s not like your changeup or slider are working!

Sadly, it didn’t change against James McCannThree straight fastballs led to a 2-1 count, followed by another heater at 96mph that induced McCann to lose his bat:

Skubal has been granted a few gifts this inning, from Eloy’s double-play to McCann’s whiff on ball three. While he’s not out of it yet and about to throw his 29th pitch, this could have been a lot worse.

At 2-2, Skubal was stubborn, trying once again to nail his slider down-and-in to a right-hander. Shocking, it missed away for a foul ball. Skubal went back to the fastball once again, this time elevating at 96 mph at this was the result:

Phew. 30 pitches for the first inning and sadly just two curveballs thrown. It was his most consistent offering and I’m shocked he didn’t turn to it more. His slider and changeup failed him and while he was wild with heaters, he may have been able to beat batters like the 96 mph whiff to Eloy if he had sequenced it with more curveballs.

 

Second Inning

 

I was hoping for more curveballs and was at first unhappy to see a slider start off Luis Robert until I saw the result:

Well ain’t that a pretty penny! It’s the pitch he was trying to endlessly find in the first frame and now he got a beautiful whiff. Okay, I understand a little more why they kept going after it. Let’s hope it wasn’t a one-time fluke.

The pitch sets up a fastball up-and-in, but Skubal missed away from the next two pitches with fastballs. At 2-1, I’m hoping it’s not another meatball from Skubal and he served this:

YES. That’s a gorgeous changeup. Like the slider before, it’s just one out of many poorly executed ones prior, but that’s a lovely offering. If there’s consistency to that pitch, Skubal will have a picnic.

I’m going to make three GIFs of this at-bat because Skubal is executing as well as I’ve seen him thus far. Just look at the following 97 mph heater:

That’s 97 mph on the inside corner that Robert couldn’t handle, turning into an easy out. Slider down, changeup away, fastball in. That’s exactly what we’re looking for and hey! There’s also a really good curveball. Things are looking up Skubal.

Nomar Mazara followed and saw a poor 96 mph fastball for ball one followed by a meaty 94 mph heater down the middle that was swatted foul. Skubal was fortunate a second time with an 85 mph slider that floated middle away and was slapped foul down the third-base side. Not great.

At 1-2, he pushed Mazara back with 96 mph heat, then followed with that huge curveball:

This is a pitch that I imagine froze many in the minors, but Mazara did a great job of staying inside the box and pushed it to left field for a single. That pitch needs to land under the zone, not inside it.

Batting ninth was Danny Mendickwho saw a 93mph heater for strike one right down the heart of the plate. Wait, 93 mph? Skubal is lucky that wasn’t crushed and I was hoping to see 94+ the entire night.

Speaking of underwhelming, Skubal went back to the changeup at 0-1:

That pitch was lofted into the middle of the plate and Skubal would normally have to search for that baseball in the bleachers. He’s lucky to have escaped with just a single.

We’re at 42 pitches and about to face Tim Anderson a second time. Keep in mind, Skubal is not stretched out like many others, endured COVID-19, and likely is incredibly far from the rhythm of your standard starting pitcher. He could out of this game very soon.

0-0 saw a fastball nearly identical to the first pitch of his start for strike one. Skubal amped it up to 96 mph for a fastball a little farther in, warranting a foul ball for strike two.

Now it gets fun. What does Skubal throw? A fastball up-and-in? Curveball? Changeup? Or does he go for that slider down-and-in that he tried many times in the first inning and failed to execute when he needed it?

You’re smart. You know the answer:

Oooof, that hurts. This what right in the wheelhouse for Anderson as it’s supposed to be off the plate both inside and down and was punished for an RBI double. Anderson even slid up in the box in anticipation of an off-speed offering, making this look more like a pitch located in the middle of the plate.

It’s really the story of this performance. Skubal has a repertoire that can earn whiffs when executed, but he’s fought his command from the start and failed to make the right pitches when he needs to.

With his slider failing, Skubal turned to his curveball to lead off Yoan Moncada, but bounced it in the dirt. He then threw a poor 94 mph fastball down the middle, leading to an RBI sac fly to right:

I wanted to show this one again as plenty of Skubal’s heaters looked like this one: 94 mph right down the middle. It’s been a lot of that or missing too high.

Well, his next pitch to Jose Abreu wasn’t exactly that, and a bit unfair to Skubal. If you get a swing at 95 mph under the zone and off the end of the bat, you’d often be relieved, but here, Abreu was able to dunk the ball into right field to score the third run of the inning.

That’s baseball, Suzyn.

Eloy Jimenez got another crack at Tarik and swung once again at a curveball under the zone for a quick foul ball strike:

I’m telling you, that curveball is Skubal’s best offering. I’m shocked he hasn’t tried to steal more strikes with the pitch this game.

A low curveball at 76 mph sets up a fastball upstairs (That’s the BSB!) but Skubal went for a changeup away and missed poorly inside. Blegh.

He went for it again – I do like that stubbornness and confidence, but maybe it’s unwarranted tonight – and it floated high that somehow earned a whiff from Eloy at the very top of the zone at 81 mph. Weird.

Now at 1-2, Skubal showed us more stubbornness and desired to execute an inside slider once again:

It earned a whiff and a strikeout, closing the door on Skubal’s MLB debut. We made it.

 

Conclusion

 

So this wasn’t what we wanted. Skubal brought velocity (95 mph), but his command was poor across the board. I think his erratic heater would have faired better if his secondary stuff was there to complement it, but his slider and changeup were rarely executed, while his curveball seemingly took a break for most of the game.

The raw stuff is good, though. The few sliders and changeups thrown well were legit pitches and his tendency to jam right-handers is certainly my cup of tea. His curveball could be a more all-around offering as well, outlining the groundwork for a pitcher that can have success when he’s in rhythm. That’s the question, though, can Skubal can into rhythm this season? He missed time recovering from COVID-19 and is far from being fully stretched out as he threw just 52 pitches in this outing. After displaying command this erratic, we normally need a few starts for pitchers to make tweaks and develop consistency across their arsenal. I wouldn’t hold my breath for Skubal to put it all together rapidly.

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Creator of CSW, The List, and SP Roundup. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former college pitcher, travel coach, pitching coach, and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

  • mikehomie says:

    It sure seems like he really slows his arm speed down on that changeup. And that fastball looks awfully straight, but maybe it was the camera angle. As a Tiger fan I was hoping for a little bit more, but first time out and all.

  • anonymouos says:

    So good, this is the stuff I come to PitcherList for. Thank you.

  • Tom says:

    To the best of my knowledge (and I may be mistaken), his fastball and slider did the heavy lifting in the minors. The curveball and changeups are works in progress, according to the Fox Sports Detroit broadcast last night.

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