Did Tigers, Tarik Skubal bait Bobby Witt Jr. into getting caught stealing?

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals
Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals / Jamie Squire/GettyImages

Wednesday afternoon's Tigers-Royals game got an unusual amount of hype for an AL Central, weekday afternoon matchup, but it had everything to do with the pitchers on the mound. It was Tarik Skubal versus Cole Ragans, two underrated young lefties at the top of their games and playing for wily underdog teams.

Both kept things clean in the first inning, with neither allowing any baserunners, but Royals bats did take advantage of Skubal in the bottom of the second, when Freddy Fermin and Garrett Hampson doubles put two runs on the board for Kansas City.

In the third, one of the Royals' biggest all-around threats in Bobby Witt Jr. made it to first on an error by Gio Urshela. Witt, who has already stolen 16 bases this season, will have any pitcher peeking out of the corner of their eye as soon as he gets on base safely.

Skubal checked him twice, ignoring the boos that sounded at Kauffman Stadium. With zero disengagements left and the count on Vinnie Pasquantino at 1-1, Skubal threw a fastball up and out of the zone. Jake Rogers nabbed it and quickly threw to second, where Javy Báez was waiting while Witt was trying to get back to first. Báez's throw beat him there (thanks, in part, to a stumble for Witt as he tried to go into a swim move back into first.

After Skubal and Rogers pulled it off, the Tigers' television announcers were quick to posit an interesting (and seemingly very likely) theory — they might have intentionally baited Witt into trying to steal.

Tarik Skubal, Tigers might've been playing mind games with Bobby Witt Jr. during Wednesday's game against Royals

After Skubal's two checks over to first, announcers Jason Benetti and Dan Petry were already wondering aloud if a pitcher would ever use those disengagements to lure a great runner like Witt into feeling safe to run. One pitch later, that's exactly what the Tigers seemed to do, with Skubal throwing a perfectly placed pitch for Rogers to grab on a jump and fire to second before Witt could get a good start from first.

Skubal ended up walking Pasquantino to end that at-bat, but he kept things clean by getting Salvador Perez to ground out. The announcers noted that they wouldn't have any backing for their theory until the postgame, when they could grill Skubal, Rogers, or even AJ Hinch about the move, but we really hope the whole sequence was intentional. That's some diabolical game planning from the Tigers, which we could stand to see more often.