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Tarik Skubal, Matt Vierling team up in Detroit Tigers' 8-0 win over Pittsburgh Pirates

Detroit Tigers left-hander Tarik Skubal, the frontrunner for the American League Cy Young, pitched seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts to lower his ERA to 2.01 through 11 starts, but that wasn't surprising.

Skubal has been dominant all season.

More surprisingly, Matt Vierling continued to impress with another powerful swing to the pull side. For his entire career, Vierling has worked to get the ball in the air to left field, and in the past two games, he has three home runs to that part of the field.

The Tigers rode Skubal's arm and Vierling's bat to an 8-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 1 of Wednesday's doubleheader at Comerica Park. The Tigers (27-27) have won four games in a row following a five-game losing streak.

"It's a ride, for sure," Skubal said. "Streaks happens. You lose a little bit, and then you turn it around. I think it speaks to the guys that we got. It doesn't matter if we lose five in a row. We can come back and win the next day. We're very confident in that aspect."

Vierling finished 3-for-4 with four RBIs.

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He hit two home runs in Sunday's 14-11 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, including a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning. Vierling didn't play Monday or Tuesday because the team off day and rainout, but he never cooled down.

"I've worked really, really hard to pull the ball more," Vierling said, "to hit the ball in the air a little bit more and try to utilize some exit velocity, and instead of it being on the ground, trying to get it in the air. Right now, it's working pretty good."

A red-hot Vierling put the Tigers ahead, 1-0, with an RBI single in the first inning, facing Pirates right-hander Jared Jones. He increased the lead to 6-0 with a three-run home run in the fifth inning.

Tigers center fielder Matt Vierling celebrates in the dugout after scoring a run against the Pirates in the first inning of Game 1 of the doubleheader on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, at Comerica Park.
Tigers center fielder Matt Vierling celebrates in the dugout after scoring a run against the Pirates in the first inning of Game 1 of the doubleheader on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, at Comerica Park.

Vierling hit the single off Jones' fastball and the homer off Jones' slider.

Jones, 22, has been one of the best rookie pitchers in the National League, but his ERA jumped from 3.05 to 3.55 after running into the Tigers in his 11th start.

He allowed seven runs (five earned runs) on five hits and two walks with two strikeouts across 4⅓ innings, throwing 83 pitches. The Tigers crushed his fastball and didn't whiff on any of their 12 swings against his fastball.

"Just being on the fastball," Vierling said. "I feel like he had a feeling that was our game plan because after the first inning or two innings, we noticed that he started throwing a lot more offspeed pitches, mixing and matching a lot. At that point, it was still stay on the plan: be ready for the heater and adjust to whatever else he throws at us."

The Tigers were all over him from the beginning, with leadoff hitter Wenceel Pérez jumping a 97.8 mph fastball for a leadoff triple to right-center field in the first inning. After that, Vierling hit another fastball back up the middle for a 1-0 lead.

Vierling is hitting .290 with an .811 OPS in 48 games this season. Aside from Vierling, the Tigers also picked up RBIs from Mark Canha, Gio Urshela, Colt Keith and Jake Rogers.

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Tarik Skubal manages pitch count

The Pirates, armed with a lineup full of right-handed hitters, had three hits and one walk against Skubal in seven innings. They also struck out eight times.

Skubal, 27, threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 25 batters he faced (92%), tossed 66 of 93 pitches for strikes (71%) and generated 15 whiffs on 45 swings (33%). He retired the final 10 batters, as well as 17 of the last 18 batters.

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He was that good, again.

"I thought early I had a lot of uncompetitive misses with two strikes," Skubal said. "I kept going right back at guys. My first-pitch strike percentage was really high, and then they started swinging and putting the ball in play once they realized I was going to be in the zone all day."

Tigers pitcher Tarik Skubal throws a pitch against the Pirates in the second inning of Game 1 of the doubleheader on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, at Comerica Park.
Tigers pitcher Tarik Skubal throws a pitch against the Pirates in the second inning of Game 1 of the doubleheader on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, at Comerica Park.

Skubal set the tone early on by striking out three batters in the first inning: Andrew McCutchen (called strike, 97.8 mph sinker), Bryan Reynolds (swinging strike, 88.1 mph changeup), Edward Olivares (swinging strike, 96.7 mph fastball).

He took a pitch count of 70 pitches into the fifth inning and bought himself an extra inning on the back-end of his start with three outs on five pitches. He threw one pitch to Michael A. Taylor (flyout), two pitches to Alika Williams (flyout) and two pitches to McCutchen (lineout).

He also pitched to contact in the sixth inning, needing just seven pitches for three outs. He threw one pitch to Reynolds (groundout), two to Connor Joe (groundout) and four to Olivares (groundout).

Skubal's pitch count went from 70 to 82 in a two-inning stretch, allowing him to take the mound for the seventh for the second time this season, in which he threw his final 11 pitches.

"I was thinking five and dive today early," Skubal said. "I needed to be more efficient, and then they kind of helped me out in the fifth and sixth and let me earn the seventh."

Skubal generated his 15 whiffs with five fastballs, six changeups, two sliders, one sinker and one curveball.

Finishing the game

Right-handed reliever Mason Englert completed the eighth and ninth innings.

He retired all six batters.

Englert recorded two strikeouts and four groundouts. He generated five whiffs on 15 swings, using three pitches to do so. The velocity on all three of his pitches has increased since last season, plus he added a sinker.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him @EvanPetzold.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Tarik Skubal, Matt Vierling team up in Tigers Game 1 win over Pirates