PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks could not have been more encouraged with the outcome of rookie Tyler Skaggs’ emergency start against Texas on Monday: Six shutout innings that served to accentuate their quality pitch depth.
Most instructive was the poise Skaggs showed at the outset.
Texas leadoff hitter Elvis Andrus singled on the fourth pitch and took second on the seventh, a wild pitch. That was as far as he got. Skaggs jammed Adrian Beltre with a well-placed 92 mph fastball, getting a chopper to first base on a high-inside heater.
With Nelson Cruz at the plate, Skaggs brought out the pitch that hurt Texas throughout his six shutout innings in the 5-3 victory at Chase Field — a margin of victory that close only because the Rangers scored three times in the top of the ninth.
Skaggs snapped off an 0-2 curveball that Cruz swung at and missed.
Left-hander Skaggs struck out nine, six on the 75 mph curveball that scouts have called above major league-average since he was selected in the sandwich round of the 2009 draft. He also mixed in a developing changeup with his 91-92 mph fastball, and by throwing all for strikes, he kept the Rangers off-balance all game.
“It’s everything we could have asked for,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.
The D-backs made it a day to remember with a 5-4 victory in the second game, negating Yu Darvish’s 14-strikeout performance when Didi Gregorius hit a two-run home run to tie it in the eighth inning and Cliff Pennington had a walkoff single in the ninth.
Skaggs, starting because Ian Kennedy was pushed back with a cut on his right index finger, flew in from Class Triple-A Reno on Sunday, stuck it to Texas on Monday and will be on his way to Las Vegas to rejoin the Aces on Tuesday.
It was a short visit , but one that signals the possibility of a long stay down the road. It is only one appearance, sure, but it is the best Skaggs has looked in his short time with the D-backs. He got his first career victory in the almost the exact scenario last season, when he was recalled to start the first game of a doubleheader against Miami in late August, and he remained in the rotation until late September, making six starts. But he did not get another victory and showed some frustration as the season wound down.
The D-backs believed he put a little too much pressure on himself in spring training, and he fell behind in the competition for the final spot in the rotation that eventually went to Patrick Corbin.
It was easy to forget that Skaggs does not turn 22 until July 13, and that his upside was as high as any pitcher in the organization. Baseball America ranked Skaggs as the 13th best prospect entering the 2012 season and upped him to No. 12 this season.
As impressive as the way Skaggs commanded his pitches Monday was the maturity he showed working out of the limited trouble in which he found himself while giving up three hits and three walks.
“I think he’s learned his lesson,” Gibson said. “He’s maturing. This is the best scenario for us. We bring him up here for a spot start. He continues to build his confidence and goes back there (Reno) and builds on what he has done prior, and then maybe we’re going to need in the future.”
With Skaggs and right-hander Archie Bradley, a 2011 No. 1 draft pick who continues to stream-roll his way through the minors after a promotion from Class A Visalia to Class AA Mobile a month ago, the D-backs have two pitching prospects that compare favorably with any organization in baseball. It is too early to set timetables, but neither appears that far away. Bradley is 6-0 with an 0.99 ERA in 10 starts. Skaggs has made six quality starts in nine outings at Reno, where the wind and altitude put pitchers at a disadvantage.
Skaggs was designated as the “26th player” for the doubleheader, and as such he understood that he would be headed back to Reno on Tuesday. It could have caused some nerves. Instead, it brought out his best.
“It definitely feels good, to come back and show. Spring training is one of those things when I was working on some mechanical problems and I feel like I’m on top of my game,” said Skaggs, who struck out 10 in 7 2/3 innings of his last start at Reno.
“I knew what this was going to be. Kind of a late notice thing. Happy that they called me up and had the confidence in me to start the ballgame. Hopefully opened up a few eyes. I was already confident coming it. It raises it up a little bit more. Other than that, it was one of those feel-good things.”