"When are you coming back?" Cabrera said. "Soon?"
The anticipation is building.
Skubal has been instructed not to discuss his timeline publicly, so he shared a private conversation with Cabrera about his plan for returning to the Detroit Tigers. The 26-year-old stepped on the mound at Comerica Park and completed his first live batting practice session before Friday's game.
"It was really fun," Skubal said. "You have your first bullpen, and then you have this one marked on the calendar, when you want to start facing hitters. It becomes real again. It was exciting to be out there."
President of baseball operations Scott Harris watched from behind home plate as Skubal threw 20-25 pitches to four batters. Skubal, who hasn't pitched in a game since August 2022, faced Andy Ibáñez, Jonathan Schoop and Nick Maton.
Skubal received clearance to throw to hitters following his completion of eight bullpens.
"Hitters in the box, you become more competitive, and it feels a little more personal," Skubal said. "You're trying to get that guy out as opposed to executing (pitches) against a ghost in the bullpen."
Schoop struck out swinging on four pitches.
"He was (expletive) nasty," Schoop said.
"He threw me changeup, changeup, sinker and fastball," Schoop continued. "I didn't see any fastballs early in the count. The last one was 98 (mph). His changeup was 90-92 (mph) maybe. He's going to be really good."
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Skubal declined to share his fastball velocity, citing the Tigers' rules, but he said he thought his velocity was "normal for me." In 2022, his fastball averaged 94.1 mph and maxed out at 98 mph.
After throwing to hitters, Skubal talked with pitching coach Chris Fetter about his five-pitch arsenal and his execution in the live batting practice session. He still has some tweaks to make before he feels like himself again, he said.
"We were talking about velocities and feel of pitches," Skubal said. "Some feel good to me, some don't feel good. It's not like it hurts, but I don't feel comfortable and confident about landing some of my pitches right now. For example, slider to my glove side. I don't feel great with that pitch. To my arm side, it feels great, but usually, it's the other way around, so I have to figure out what I'm doing differently to the glove side."
Skubal registered a 3.52 ERA with 32 walks and 117 strikeouts across 117⅔ innings in 21 starts last season. He had a 2.33 ERA in his first 11 starts and fired 17 scoreless innings in his final three starts.
Everyone in the clubhouse, Cabrera included, is ready for Skubal's return. He will throw another live batting practice next week. It shouldn't be much longer before he begins a rehab assignment.
"It's going to be good for us," Schoop said. "We're winning, and he's really good. He's one of the best pitchers we have. I think he's more excited to come back to help us win. He can help us win."
Kerry Carpenter begins rehab assignment
Outfielder Kerry Carpenter (right shoulder sprain) started a rehab assignment Friday with Triple-A Toledo. The injury occurred April 27 when the 25-year-old crashed into the right-field wall while pulling back a home run.
Carpenter, a left-handed hitter, logged a .217 batting average with four home runs, five walks and 22 strikeouts in 20 games before the injury sidelined him. It's unclear when he could rejoin the Tigers.
Infielder Ryan Kreidler, who hasn't played since April 26 because of a knee injury, started a rehab assignment Friday with High-A West Michigan. The 25-year-old, who earned a spot on the Opening Day roster but was demoted to Triple-A Toledo in mid-April, suffered the injury in late April.
Matt Manning throws first bullpen
Right-hander Matt Manning (right foot fracture) received clearance from the Tigers' medical staff to throw off the mound for the first time since April 11 against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
The 25-year-old completed his first bullpen session Tuesday.
"I was just testing it out," said Manning, who fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. "It wasn't heavy or anything. It was light. I was feeling the slope and pushing off. I feel good. Everything is good."
Manning, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2016 draft, is also progressing with his running program but remains limited to an anti-gravity treadmill. He will throw his second bullpen Saturday.
Before the injury, Manning posted a 4.63 ERA with three walks and seven strikeouts across 11⅔ innings in two starts.
Spencer Turnbull speaks
Right-hander Spencer Turnbull (neck discomfort), who hasn't pitched since May 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, remains shut down from throwing. A follow-up MRI from earlier in the week revealed progress in the healing process.
"I should have spoken up about it," said Turnbull, who injured his neck April 6 in his second of seven starts. "I shouldn't have tried to play through it. That was on me for not saying something about it sooner. I was just trying to be tough."
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Turnbull, who underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2021, posted a 7.26 ERA with 15 walks and 24 strikeouts across 31 innings in seven starts. He doesn't expect to begin throwing until the first or second week in June.
The 30-year-old is scheduled for another follow-up MRI in two weeks, and if the imaging shows the neck discomfort has subsided at that point, he will be cleared to begin a throwing program.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' Tarik Skubal faces hitters for first time since 2022