Royals

Royals’ Eric Skoglund outduels Justin Verlander, wins 1-0 in major-league debut

Royals starter Eric Skoglund on his major-league debut in a 1-0 win over Tigers

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Eric Skogound made his major league debut against the Detroit Tigers and outdueled Justin Verlander in a 1-0 win over the Tigers on Tuesday, May 30, 2017.
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Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Eric Skogound made his major league debut against the Detroit Tigers and outdueled Justin Verlander in a 1-0 win over the Tigers on Tuesday, May 30, 2017.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Eric Skoglund pulled up a chair and hunched down at a table in the middle of the Royals’ clubhouse. His 6-foot, 7-inch frame sat alone, thumbing at a scouting report, peering down at a piece of paper that featured the detailed game plan for the offense of the Detroit Tigers.

Skoglund, 24, had already met manager Ned Yost for the customary greeting — welcome; congrats, kid; good luck — and he had already sauntered toward his locker. As he stood, he had contemplated the journey, the one that saw a skinny kid from Sarasota, Fla., transform into a lanky southpaw who would traverse the minor leagues and arrive here on Tuesday, starting opposite Justin Verlander on a pleasant May evening in Kansas City.

Five things to know about Royals pitcher Eric Skoglund

So in one sense, this was a culmination. In another, it was a commencement, a perfect start in a 1-0 victory over the Tigers.

“It gave us all goosebumps, man,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said.

In his major-league debut, Skoglund finished with 6  1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out five. As Skoglund’s first start came to an end in the top of the seventh, Yost emerged from the dugout and 21,864 fans at Kauffman Stadium came to their feet, offering their appreciation.

Standing on the mound, surrounded by teammates, Skoglund looked Yost in the eye. His manager had one final message.

“You did a great job tonight,” Yost said. “Now when you’re walking in, I want you to listen to the crowd. They’re gonna tell you how good you did, too.”

The Royals defeated the Tigers 1-0 on Tuesday behind 6 1/3 scoreless innings from rookie Eric Skoglund.

As Skoglund passed the first-base line, he tipped his cap to the crowd and pointed toward his parents, Cindi and Lennie, sitting adjacent to the dugout. In this moment, he said, the raw emotion boiled over. He thought of the journey, of the work and the struggles and the path to this moment. He thought of his parents.

“That’s when it all hit me,” he said.

As their son passed by, Cindi Skoglund thought of her two older children. The family had grown up in Sarasota, a baseball hotbed along the Florida coast. Eric was the youngest. Four decades of baseball games. And now this.

“You just never can imagine that it will end up in the big leagues, at the show,” Cindi Skoglund would say, standing in a Kauffman Stadium hallway late Tuesday night. “You just can’t imagine that.”

And yet, it had ended up here, a late May contest between two struggling teams on the fringes of contention. It concluded like this: Eric Hosmer would break through against Verlander with a two-out, RBI single in the bottom of the sixth. The Royals (22-29) tied the series at a game apiece entering the finale Wednesday night. Ian Kennedy will take the mound against Detroit’s Matthew Boyd as Kansas City seeks a second straight series victory against a division opponent.

On Tuesday morning, the prospect of this had appeared unlikely. The Royals were starting a 24-year-old left-hander with a 4.53 ERA in just eight career starts above the Class AA level. Yet, on the first night of his major-league career, Skoglund stood up to one of the best pitchers of this generation, albeit a slightly lesser version.

A third-round pick in 2014, Skoglund was starting Tuesday in place of right-hander Nathan Karns, who landed on the disabled list after experiencing forearm stiffness in his last start. A former college standout at Central Florida, Skoglund was making his debut fewer than three years into his professional career.

In the spring, Skoglund had entered his first big-league camp with high hopes. After battling an oblique strain during the second half of 2015, he had posted a 3.45 ERA in 27 starts for Class AA Northwest Arkansas in 2016. The performance sparked optimism and raised his status as a prospect. The Royals believed Skoglund could help in 2017. But before he could impress, a minor back injury limited his availability in camp. So he headed back to Northwest Arkansas before a quick promotion to Omaha.

On Monday, he received confirmation that he would make his first major-league start Tuesday night. He called his parents and checked the schedule. He realized he was matched up with Verlander.

“I was like: ‘Bring it on, baby,’ ” Skoglund said. “That’s something I’ve always dreamed about. The guy is going to be a Hall of Famer one day. It’s a special moment, for sure.”

Skoglund seized command from the start Tuesday, trading zeros with the Tigers’ ace for five innings. Commanding three pitches and pitching with poise and maturity, he retired 14 straight hitters at one point. In another, he struck out first baseman Miguel Cabrera on three pitches. Facing a lineup of veteran right-handed hitters, he finished with the third longest scoreless debut in franchise history, behind Rich Gale (seven innings in 1978) and Derek Botelho (seven in 1982).

As Yost left the mound in the seventh inning, home-plate umpire Tim Timmons whistled in his direction.

“That kid’s got good stuff,” Timmons said, according to Yost.

Once Skoglund departed, the Royals relied on the bullpen trio of Peter Moylan, Mike Minor and Kelvin Herrera, who notched his 12th save. It was the club's first shutout since May 11 at Tampa Bay.

On offense, the Royals finished with just one run on seven hits, but they made it hold up. Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas opened the sixth inning with consecutive singles against Verlander. Lorenzo Cain followed with a smash toward shortstop that resulted in a 6-4-3 double play. But Hosmer came through in the pivotal moment, serving a 2-1 slider into right-center field.

Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer scored Alcides Escobar for the game's only run in a 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday, May 30, 2017.

For the Royals, though, one was enough. Inside the home dugout, Skoglund sat calmly, his mind at peace, crafting the best performance of his young career. He focused on executing, he said. He was confident in his stuff. He moved his fastball in and out. He followed the scouting report.

And when it was over, after he had soaked in another standing ovation, he returned to the clubhouse. This was the start. For one night, it was close to perfect.

“A debut for a left-handed pitcher, I don’t know a tougher lineup you could face,” Hosmer said. “I think the biggest thing that fired us all up was there was no fear, whatsoever.”

Royals 1, Tigers 0

Tigers

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Machado 2b

3

0

1

0

0

0

.282

b-Avila ph

1

0

0

0

0

1

.319

Castellanos 3b

4

0

0

0

0

0

.208

Cabrera 1b

3

0

0

0

1

2

.261

V.Martinez dh

3

0

1

0

0

0

.263

J.Martinez rf

3

0

0

0

0

2

.273

Upton lf

3

0

0

0

0

1

.237

Hicks c

3

0

0

0

0

1

.333

Jones cf

2

0

0

0

0

2

.143

a-Mahtook ph-cf

1

0

0

0

0

1

.175

Iglesias ss

3

0

1

0

0

0

.228

Totals

29

0

3

0

1

10

 

Royals

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Escobar ss

4

1

1

0

0

1

.180

Moustakas 3b

4

0

1

0

0

1

.250

Cain cf

4

0

1

0

0

0

.258

Hosmer 1b

4

0

1

1

0

0

.299

Perez c

3

0

0

0

0

0

.263

Bonifacio rf

3

0

2

0

0

1

.274

Moss dh

3

0

0

0

0

3

.185

Merrifield 2b

2

0

1

0

1

0

.293

Gordon lf

3

0

0

0

0

0

.173

Totals

30

1

7

1

1

6

 

Tigers

000

000

000

0

3

0

Royals

000

001

00x

1

7

0

a-struck out for Jones in the 8th. b-struck out for Machado in the 9th.

LOB: Detroit 3, Kansas City 6. 2B: Cain (10), Bonifacio (4). RBIs: Hosmer (19). SB: Merrifield (6). CS: Iglesias (1).

Runners left in scoring position: Detroit 1 (J.Martinez); Kansas City 4 (Moustakas, Hosmer, Moss, Gordon). RISP: Detroit 0 for 1; Kansas City 1 for 7. Runners moved up: Gordon, Cain. GIDP: Cain. DP: Detroit 1 (Iglesias, Machado, Cabrera).

Tigers

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Verlander L, 4-4

7

6

1

1

1

5

116

4.50

Wilson

1

1

0

0

0

1

21

1.57

Royals

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Skoglund W, 1-0

6.1

2

0

0

1

5

90

0.00

Moylan

0.2

0

0

0

0

2

6

7.85

Minor

1

1

0

0

0

1

11

2.22

Herrera S, 12

1

0

0

0

0

2

11

3.68

Holds: Moylan (8), Minor (5).

Umpires: Home, Tim Timmons; First, Will Little; Second, Jeff Kellogg; Third, Clint Fagan.

Time: 2:45. Att: 21,864.

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