Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press discusses a litany of Tigers injury updates yesterday evening, with news regarding left-hander Tarik Skubal chief among them.
Skubal, 26, underwent surgery on his flexor tendon back in August, but is making steady progress on his rehab. About a month after throwing off a mound for the first time since the surgery, Skubal has taken the next step and begun to face live hitters. Petzold notes that Skubal threw 20-25 pitches and faced Andy Ibanez, Jonathan Schoop, and Nick Maton in the live session. Schoop noted to Petzold that Skubal’s fastball was touching 98, a phenomenal sign for the young left-hander’s progress.
A ninth-round pick by the Tigers in the 2018 draft, Skubal quickly ascended prospect rankings, becoming a consensus top-25 prospect in the game ahead of the 2021 season after making a brief MLB debut during the shortened 2020 season. In 2021, Skubal was given the keys to a spot in the starting rotation, and the results were decent but uninspiring. Skubal posted a roughly league average 4.34 ERA in 149 1/3 innings, but a 5.09 FIP indicates that performance may not have been entirely earned. Skubal’s 25.9% strikeout rate and 7.4% walk rate were both solid marks, but his overall production was hampered considerably by a massive 20.5% of his fly balls leaving the yard for home runs.
Fortunately, Skubal managed to turn a corner in 2022. The young lefty was a revelation with the Tigers last season, a rare bright spot in an otherwise dismal season in Detroit. Skubal posted a solid 3.52 ERA, 10% better than league average by measure of ERA+, and paired that with an excellent 2.96 FIP as he maintained his quality strikeout and walk numbers from the previous season while managing to drastically reduce the quality of contact he was allowing. In 2021, Skubal’s 13.9% barrel rate was the worst figure in baseball (min. 140 IP). That figure dropped all the way to 5.5% in 2022, however, good for the 78th percentile in the league, per Statcast. Skubal’s 2022 breakout campaign was, of course, cut short by the aforementioned surgery in August, which limited him to just 117 2/3 innings.
Looking ahead, Skubal figures to provide a huge boost to the Detroit rotation both this season and for the foreseeable future upon his return, assuming he’s able to maintain his 2022 breakout when he returns to the mound. No concrete details on Skubal’s timeline for return are available, though he seems to be ahead of right-hander Matt Manning, who Petzold notes threw off a mound Tuesday for the first time since suffering a fractured foot last month. While Manning initially hoped that he would be able to return to action after six weeks, that timeline was quickly taken off the table when the righty was transferred to the 60-day IL at the end of April. Manning will throw a second bullpen session today but, per Petzold, remains limited to an anti-gravity treadmill for his current running program.
All this suggests the club’s first-round pick in the 2016 draft is still a while away from a return to game action. In 12 starts last season, Manning impressed with a 3.43 ERA and 3.78 FIP in 63 innings of work that earned him a rotation spot on Opening Day this season. In two starts prior to his injury this season, however, Manning struggled badly, allowing a whopping four home runs in just 11 2/3 innings of work. Still, the talented youngster figures to be of great importance to the Tigers going forward, once he’s returned to full health.
Elsewhere among the club’s rotation options, right-hander Spencer Turnbull remains shut down after being placed on the injured list with neck discomfort earlier this month, though a recent MRI revealed the healing process is progressing well so far. Petzold notes that the current plan regarding Turnbull, who struggled to a 7.26 ERA in 31 innings of work this season prior to his placement on the IL, is for the 30-year-old righty to undergo an additional MRI in two weeks. If Turnbull’s neck ailment has cleared up, he’ll likely begin a throwing program at that point. Turnbull, of course, missed most of the 2021 campaign and all of 2022 while undergoing and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Rounding out the injury updates is outfielder Kerry Carpenter, who landed on the IL with a shoulder strain last month, began a rehab assignment in Triple-A yesterday. Carpenter impressed with the club in his major league debut down the stretch last season, and his quality performance largely carried over to 2023 prior to his injury. While the 25-year-old Carpenter still has just 188 big league plate appearances under his belt in his career, his slash line of .238/.298/.477 with ten home runs and nine doubles leaves plenty of optimism that Carpenter can contribute to a scuffling Tigers offense upon his return to the big league club.