PHOENIX — If first starts mean anything, Tyler Skaggs deserves an immediate second. He was that poised and that effective in his major league debut Wednesday afternoon.
On his first day in the major leagues, Skaggs was almost exactly the pitcher the Arizona Diamondbacks projected him to be when they acquired him in the Dan Haren trade in July 2010. Skaggs gave up three hits, the only damage coming on Justin Ruggiano’s two-run homer run in the second inning, a blow that only seemed to deepen his resolve.
While Skaggs walked five in 6 2/3 innings, he stepped it up when he needed it most. After throwing eight consecutive balls to open the sixth inning in a 3-2 game, Skaggs jammed Miami cleanup hitter Carlos Lee to force a double-play grounder, then got hot-hitting Giancarlo Stanton to pop out on another inside fastball. Skaggs struck out four, getting the side in the fifth on two breaking balls and a fastball.
Aaron Hill drove in all three D-backs’ runs with a two-run homer in the first inning and a single in the third, and the bullpen triumvirate of Brad Ziegler, David Hernandez and J.J. Putz closed it out as the D-backs broke a two-game losing streak.
“He has good stuff. He was very composed,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said of Skaggs, 21.
“I think we’ve always felt good about his future.”
Skaggs’ immediate future is unclear despite his quality outing. He is the sixth starter on a team that uses five, and a return to Triple-A Reno would seem likely. At the same time, the D-backs could decide to tweak their rotation moving forward, especially if another team claims left-hander Joe Saunders, placed on waivers Tuesday.
The D-backs are keeping their plans close to the vest.
“No clue. It’s not my decision,” Skaggs said when asked what the future holds.
“I don’t make those decisions,” Gibson said with a smile.
General manager Kevin Towers, who does, was not around to comment. But if Skaggs’ start was an audition, he passed, expected nerves and all.
“What do you guys think?” Skaggs said with a smile when asked if he felt butterflies.
“It was pretty nerve-racking, but I feel like I did a good job. Trust me, everybody is going to have nerves. People say they don’t. Once you get that first pitch out of the way, you feel a lot better. In the fifth inning, things started to click. The curveball felt good. It’s been like that all year. Some days, the curveball is good. Some days, it’s not there. I pushed through and the curveball came along.”
With the results meeting expectations, many in the appreciative announced crowd of 17,239 at Chase Field gave Skaggs a standing ovation as he left with two outs in the seventh inning, after reaching 99 pitches with his fifth walk. Skaggs tipped his cap as he walked off.
“Phenomenal. The greatest feeling I’ve had in my life so far,” said Skaggs, Baseball America’s No. 13 prospect entering the season after being a sandwich pick in the 2010 draft.
“I don’t think it could have gone any better. A great day all around so far. It’s a dream come true.”
Well . . .
“It went a little better in my dream, without the walks. But it still went good,” Skaggs said.
The biggest lesson?
“That I can pitch up here. But there are a lot of things to work on. It’s a steppingstone,” he said.
Skaggs became the third pitcher in franchise history to go at least six innings and give up three hits or fewer in his major league debut, joining John Patterson (2002) and Enrique Gonzalez (2006). Both Patterson and Gonzalez went six innings.
It was the most impressive of the three first starts by the D-backs’ young guns – Patrick Corbin and Trevor Bauer also have made their major league debuts this season. Corbin came with Skaggs and Saunders in the Haren deal — a trade that keeps on giving.
All three youngsters are considered candidates for spots in the 2013 starting rotation alongside Ian Kennedy, Wade Miley and Trevor Cahill as Daniel Hudson recovers from Tommy John surgery that is expected to keep him out until about midseason.
Corbin won his debut in Miami on April 30 and is 5-4 with a 3.46 ERA in nine starts, winning three since returning to the rotation when the D-backs opted against trading for help at the July 31 trade deadline. Bauer was 1-2 with a 6.06 ERA in four starts, getting a no-decision in his debut June 28 in Atlanta.
Skaggs’ demeanor impressed the D-backs.
“Even in spring training, I was impressed because he had a real good presence on the mound. Today he showed it. I see a bright future,” catcher Miguel Montero said.