'Rolling along pretty good': Tigers' Spencer Turnbull eager to turn page from 2019
Cincinnati — The truth of it is, Spencer Turnbull won’t know how it will impact him, or if it will at all, until he steps on the mound Sunday and locks in against his first Cincinnati Reds hitter.
“It will be interesting to see how I feel,” he said Saturday. “Honestly, I think it will be normal.”
Normal? Pitching in a quiet, empty stadium? Whatever intensity and adrenaline will have to be self-manufactured. Turnbull pitched the home opener last year. He’s an adrenaline guy, sometimes to his own detriment. How will this be normal?
“I’m going to still have adrenaline,” he said. “I’m still facing the best hitters on the planet. It’ll definitely be different without fans, but for me, it’s more of an inner competition with myself. I still want to be the best, whether it’s in front of a thousand people in the stands or a thousand watching on TV — there’s still an audience.
“You are still playing for the same goal, to win a championship. The adrenaline will be there.”
If this was last year, when Turnbull was still cutting his teeth in the big leagues, still trying to figure out if he could succeed at this level, manager Ron Gardenhire might be more worried about how the dead atmosphere of COVID-19 baseball would affect him.
Not this year.
“I think he’s gathered himself pretty good,” Gardenhire said. “From what we’ve seen, he’s rolling along pretty good and handling himself very well. I think he believes in himself a little bit more now. We’ll see what he does, but he’ll be fine.
“This atmosphere or a big atmosphere, I don’t think that’s his problem. It’s been just about finding himself. He’s got great stuff and I think he’s starting to trust it.”
Turnbull has been virtually unhittable, in Grapefruit League games and against his teammates in intrasquad scrimmages. There are a few notable changes from last year, too. His body, for one, is leaner and his mechanics much smoother. Also, he’s firing his 94-mph four-seamer up in the strike zone more often, especially in put-away counts.
“Just wanted to add more to my game,” he shrugged. “It’s not the only thing I’m doing now, just an extra piece. I’ve worked on it. I did it some last year but I wasn’t able to command it consistently. Whatever works. If the high fastball works, or it’s the low fastball (two-seam) — whatever works that day is what I’m using.”
The two-seamer was a problem pitch for him last year, especially against left-handed hitters. Overall, opponents hit .349 against it, lefties whacked it at a .400 pace. He said it’s still in his arsenal and the adjustments he’s made against lefties are more about approach than pitch selection.
“I’m just trying to attack both sides of the plate more, against righties and lefties,” he said. “I want to be more aggressive. I just don’t feel like I have to nibble. I want to try to get ahead of everybody.”
Turnbull last pitched Monday morning at Comerica Park. He threw 75 pitches in live batting practice before the team took a noon flight to Cincinnati.
“Yeah, 8 a.m., my favorite time to throw live BP,” he said, rolling his eyes.
Cameron Maybin hasn’t yet found his hitting stroke and the frustration boiled to the surface after he lined out to first to end the top of the seventh inning. Uncharacteristically, he slammed his bat to the ground.
“He’s a veteran and he knows how to play,” Gardenhire said. “He’s put some pretty good swings out there, he’s just going through it right now. I’m not worried about him.”
Still, Gardenhire is watching him carefully. Maybin is 33 and he battled a shoulder strain throughout both training camps.
“We have to find ways to get Victor Reyes at-bats, here, too,” Gardenhire said. “We’re watching Maybin because he’s a vet and he’s a little bit older. I will protect him the best I can. He had that shoulder issue but he’s past that now. He says he feels great.
“It’s just about getting his swing where he wants it.”
Maybin left the game Saturday with stiffness in both calves. Gardenhire said he planned to give Maybin Sunday off anyway.
Just getting outs
Tigers setup man Buck Farmer pitched a clean eighth inning Friday, but his fastball sat at 93 mph, two below his season average last season. In his final two intrasquad outings, his velocity was 90-91.
It’s not, he said, a matter of if the velocity will come back, it’s a matter of when.
“The quarantine and that whole thing was tough,” he said. “I was starting to hit my stride toward the end of spring before it all got shut down. And then, not being able to face live hitters or anything like that — just throwing my bullpens — being able to continue my actual, full-on program was tough.
“I don’t have any doubt that I’ll be back up there. Last night was a step in the right direction. All that matters to me is coming in, doing my job and getting outs.”
Farmer said the less-than-intense atmosphere of the empty stadium was not a factor.
“A lot of guys, including myself, feed off the atmosphere, but you are still pitching in a major league baseball game,” he said. “Whether there’s fans in the stands or not. I didn’t find it too tough.”
Reds designated hitter Matt Davidson became the first player to play in a game after testing positive for COVID-19.
Davidson, who went 0-for-2, took the test before the game and got the results after. He was put on the COVID list and the league will be conducting contact test to see whom he might’ve been in direct contact with.