Left-hander Tyler Skaggs was back in the Arizona Diamondbacks clubhouse Monday for the first time since spring training, and made his first big league start since September 20, 2012. He looked in control during his six innings of work and pitched through a tough Texas Rangers lineup en route to an impressive 5-3 victory.
"Come on, he was lights out," said manager Kirk Gibson. "Just got all of his pitches over and he executed a great game plan. He had three pitches going. Six innings was great, 102 pitches, he did a great job."
In six innings, the 21-year-old gave up three hits, no runs and struck out a career-high nine batters. Skaggs was brought up as the 26th player for Monday's doubleheader. He replaced starter Ian Kennedy, who's recovering from a cut on the index finger of his pitching hand.
"Spring training was tough for him but certainly he's been on a roll lately in the minor leagues and he threw the ball that way (Monday). We just tell him, you gotta learn how to treat it that way when you're here," said Gibson. "There's no reason you can't throw strikes and execute down there and execute here. You have to trust your defense and just make pitches."
Skaggs came into Monday's game with a 5.23 ERA in nine starts with Triple-A Reno, but in his last three games with the Aces he showed notable improvement with a 2-1 record and a 2.66 ERA.
"Oh yeah, it definitely feels good," said Skaggs after the win. "It feels good to come back to show that spring training was one of those things where I was working out some mechanical problems and now I feel like I'm on top of my game."
It was Skaggs' seventh career start in the big leagues. He was 1-3 with a 5.38 ERA in six starts with the club last season. Oddly enough, he earned his first Major League win in 2012 in game one of a doubleheader against the Miami Marlins.
"I feel like every start gives me more confidence so especially a start like this really kind of helps me," Skaggs said of his solid outing.
Gibson was asked after the game about Skaggs' demeanor in the dugout and on the mound -- something he's maybe struggled with in the past.
"Just something that he has to learn how to deal with," said Gibson. "I heard him talking to himself in the dugout in the second inning. I said, ‘Hey, no negativity. You're going to make mistakes, they're going to score runs, and we're trying to win games. You just battle your --- off regardless of what the score is. If you go out there and it means keeping your team close, shutting them out, or whatever it means, you just do it. You go as far as you can go and when I take you out, you've left it all out there, that's all that you can do. You just can't be a perfectionist out there; it works on your mind in a bad way.'"
Skaggs did just that in the win. He pitched his butt off. The left-hander threw 102 pitches on the afternoon and 66 went for strikes. Afterwards, the D-backs starter noted that he relied heavily on catcher Wil Nieves, saying he didn't really shake him off much. All part of the maturation process, according to his manager.
"I think he's learned his lesson," said Gibson. "He's maturing, he did a great job for us today and it's everything we could've asked for. This is the best scenario for us, we bring him up here or a spot start and he's the 26th guy today.
"He continues to build his confidence, goes down there and builds on what he's done prior to here, today and maybe what we're going to need in the future."
Skaggs was aware of his one-day situation Monday, and though it was temporary, he noted that all that mattered was making the most of time with the D-backs.
"I knew what this was going to be, kind of a late notice thing," said Skaggs. "Just happy that they called me up and had the confidence in me to start the ball game so hopefully I opened up a few eyes."
The MLB's doubleheader rule allowed the D-backs to bring up a 26th player without having to make a corresponding roster move, but Skaggs will go back to Triple-A following Monday night's game.
When asked after the D-backs' 5-3 win if he'll have some tough decisions to make going forward with his roster and specifically his pitching staff, manager Kirk Gibson didn't hesitate in his answer.
"That's not tough. Those are good decisions. If you just keep getting stronger and stronger, that's fine."
Going forward, Gibson and the D-backs may need to find a spot for Skaggs if he continues to pitch this well but they also have Daniel Hudson returning from the 60-day disable list at some point in July after having Tommy John surgery last season.
It's safe to say that Skaggs made quite an impression in his first start of 2013.