Tonight, the Kansas City Royals eked out a 1-0 victory against the Detroit Tigers. On its face, it was a simple pitchers’ duel fueled by two struggling offenses. But the night was all about the Royals’ young players, with supporting performances by Jorge Bonifacio and Whit Merrifield and headlined by starting pitcher Eric Skoglund.
Skoglund, your friendly left-handed pitcher from the local IKEA, was debuting in his very first Major League game. If you didn’t know that, you’d think Skoglund was a rising and established young star in the game. The 24-year old threw 6 1⁄3 scoreless innings, allowing two singles, walking one, and striking out five. He made quick and incisive work of a slumping but nevertheless dangerous Tigers lineup.
Skoglund’s only trouble was in the first inning—Mike Moustakas saved a hit from a sharply hit grounder by Dixon Machado, and a walk of Miguel Cabrera and a Victor Martinez single placed a runner on first and second with two outs—but Skoglund struck out slugger J.D. Martinez for his first Major League strikeout to worm his way out of the jam.
From there, Skoglund excelled. In the next five and a third innings, he encountered little trouble. “Poised” is often lazy shorthand for how a pitcher operates on the mound, but it nevertheless describes exactly how Skoglund worked. He was in total control, working quickly and was very comfortable with his full pitch mix. Skoglund’s fastball ran in the low-90s and as high as 95, and he worked in a devious changeup in the mid-80s as well as a mid-80s slider and a low-70s looping curve. All four pitches worked well for him, and he was never wild and never showed any negative or nervous body language on the mound.
In 2017, Skoglund was shutting down lefties in the minor leagues (.493 OPS against), but yielding lots of offense to righties (.796). Detroit hoped to neutralize the rookie lefty by rolling out a lineup of nine right-handed batters, but the ploy did not work. The key to any successful Major League starter is the ability to get opposite-handed batters out. That made Skoglund’s outing even more impressive. Peter Moylan relieved Skoglund after the first out of the seventh inning, and Skoglund walked back to the dugout under rapturous applause. He took off his cap and waved it vigorously, recognizing the love from the fans, and pointed at his parents sitting in the third row on the first base side.
As one might expect with Justin Verlander on the mound and the Royals offense what it is, runs were at a premium. Kansas City got one baserunner in each of the second, third, and fifth innings, but were unable to score any of them. The Royals finally put more than one baserunner on in the sixth inning. Two seeing-eye grounders by Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas put runners at first and second with no out. Lorenzo Cain grounded into a double play on a third consecutive grounder, which is what happens sometimes if all you do is hit ground balls. Still, Eric Hosmer knocked a nice line drive into center field to score Escobar for their first and only run.
It was all they needed. Moylan, Mike Minor, and Kelvin Herrera made quick work after Skoglund’s exit.
Tomorrow, the Royals face the Tigers for the rubber match and look to continue their momentum in this homestand.