Tyler Skaggs' strong start to his recovery from elbow surgery had thudded in recent weeks, with the 25-year-old left-hander's season starting to resemble the uneven territory he traversed before his ulnar collateral ligament injury in 2014.
His start Sunday at Comerica Park, then, marked a turn back onto the old path, and an acceleration. Skaggs fired six scoreless innings as the Angels beat Detroit, 5-0, to secure their first winning trip since mid-May and only their second this season.
"That can happen at any time to any pitcher," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said of Skaggs. "You're hopeful that a pitcher will continue to grow, and he needs to."
Skaggs said the difference between this start and the four that preceded it was mostly in his mind. He said he had been missing the edges of the strike zone while attempting to be exceptionally accurate. Sunday, he said, he sought to "just be aggressive and don't try to pitch too fine." He threw hard enough, with big enough break on his curveball, that it worked.
The Angels pounded five consecutive grounders to begin the game. They resulted in five outs, two on an Andrelton Simmons double play. They could not convoke anything worthwhile until the fifth inning, when Simmons singled and Jefry Marte walloped a fastball from Anibal Sanchez for a two-run home run.
In the sixth inning, they strung together a series of singles. First was Mike Trout, who shot one up the middle. Albert Pujols knocked a sinking liner to center; Cameron Maybin was at first ruled to have caught it, but Pujols raised his arms demonstratively and refused to leave first base until the Angels asked for a replay review.
It made for an odd scene at the base, as Pujols, Trout and Detroit's Miguel Cabrera all stood within close proximity. The three men have combined for six most-valuable-player awards.
Eighty seconds later, Pujols' act of defiance was vindicated. He stayed at first, while Trout moved to second. C.J. Cron followed with a single to load the bases, and Simmons and Marte subsequently launched sacrifice flies. Rookie Nick Buss, a Michigan native, doubled to bring home the final run.
Skaggs struck out Ian Kinsler to start, and then survived a long fly ball off Maybin's bat. There would be one more long fly, but otherwise Skaggs sliced up the Tigers lineup.
"I think he tried to force a couple things," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.
The curveball command he lost during his previous starts never departed his arsenal. He repeatedly plopped his 93-to-95-mph fastball in various areas of the strike zone, flashed a changeup because he could, and then weaved in the curveball during moments when the hitters could not afford to bet on it leaving the strike zone.
He struck out six. He walked two, hit a batter and gave up two hits, both by Cabrera. The only trouble occurred after Cabrera doubled to open the fourth inning. Victor Martinez pushed him to third, but Skaggs struck out J.D. Martinez. He walked Justin Upton and then induced a groundout from Casey McGehee.
After six innings and 91 pitches — his earned-run average sinking almost a full run to 4.75 — Skaggs was removed for a series of right-handed relievers. First was Mike Morin, then Jose Valdez and Deolis Guerra. The three yielded two hits and one walk between them.
When Guerra let one runner on base in the ninth, Scioscia had Fernando Salas warm up in the bullpen, demonstrating that Salas has become his closer in the absence of Huston Street and Cam Bedrosian.
The Angels' manager had been reticent to name a specific man for the role.