Cleveland — Tigers bench coach Steve Liddle pulled starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull aside after his 100-pitch, five-inning effort against the Indians Saturday and, quite literally, threatened to call his parents.
"I told him, 'If you do as good a job staying out of trouble as you do getting out of trouble, you'll win a Cy Young Award,'" said Liddle, after the Tigers were blanked by the Indians, 2-0. "I told him, 'I'm going to have to call your parents and see if you were a little trouble-maker growing up.'"
That Turnbull got through those five innings giving up just two runs was remarkable.
An RBI triple by Jose Ramirez in the second inning and an RBI single by Oscar Mercado in the third inning accounted for all the scoring. But it was still uncomfortably messy for Turnbull.
"Any time I can't at least get to the sixth, it's frustrating," Turnbull said. "But there's definitely some positives today. It was definitely better than last week."
The Indians tagged Turnbull for six runs and 10 hits in five innings last Sunday at Comerica Park. So, yes, it was a vast improvement in that regard.
"They are a tough team," Turnbull said. "It's a heavy left-handed hitting lineup and there's some really tough outs. They see a lot of pitches. It's hard to get quick outs on some of those guys, it's just part of their game."
Turnbull made some ridiculously clutch pitches Saturday, working his way out of jams in all but one of his innings. He faced seven hitters with runners in scoring position and allowed just one hit.
"I guess I'm pretty good at getting out of trouble," Turnbull said.
"I just get in trouble a lot."
He got Ramirez on a soft fly ball to left with the bases loaded and two outs in the third. He threw a filthy 3-2 curve and froze Carlos Santana with two on and one out in the fifth.
His stuff was that good. And he used all his pitches, mixing in both a change-up and curveball with his fastballs and slider. He limited the damage but at the expense of a high pitch count.
"I wasted some pitches that if I executed better I might have saved a few and got into the sixth or seventh inning," he said.
He only threw 56 strikes. He went to 10 three-ball counts. He walked two and hit another. But some of the nibbling was intentional.
"You have to nibble a little bit on some of those guys," he said. "You want to be aggressive, but if you are too aggressive and the pitch catches too much of the plate, they're knocking balls off the wall.
"And with runners in scoring position, you have to be really careful. It's hard not to throw too many pitches because you don't want to make a mistake. That's when the game blows up on you."
He was bailed out by his defense — and some sketchy base running by the Indians — early in the game. In the first inning, Mercado doubled with one out. But he got doubled off second by a strong throw from left fielder Christin Stewart, who charged in to catch a sinking liner by Santana.
After Ramirez hit his RBI triple, he strayed too far off the base on a one-hopper to first baseman Brandon Dixon. Dixon threw a strike to third base to nail him.
"We didn't give them any extra outs," Liddle said. "That's the big thing. We made some nice plays behind him."
The other side of the coin for the Tigers, though, the offensive story, was far more frustrating.
It was supposed to be a good break when Indians starter Mike Clevinger was pulled from his scheduled start and placed on the injured list with an ankle injury. It meant the Tigers would be facing rookie right-hander Aaron Civale, just called up from Triple-A and making his major-league debut.
Instead, the Tigers helped him make a special memory.
After pounding Indians ace Trevor Bauer for five runs in five innings Friday, they managed just two infield singles in six innings against Civale, who was featuring primarily a 90-mph fastball and an 85-mph change-up.
"It's what happens when you don't have a lot of information on a guy," LIddle said. "The previous night you get Bauer, one of the better pitchers in the league, but you see him twice in five days and you're a little more familiar with his pitches.
"Anytime hitters have more familiarity with a pitcher, it favors the hitter."
Niko Goodrum, who got two singles later in the game off Indians relievers, was nearly at a loss for words.
"I don't know," he said. "He threw the ball. They caught the ball. They got outs. Nothing really stood out to me. I don't have much on the guy."
For the second straight game, though, the Tigers did hit the ball hard against Indians closer Brad Hand. Goodrum and Ronny Rodriguez singled with one out in the ninth, but Hand struck out John Hicks and Dawel Lugo to end it.
The Tigers have dropped six straight to the Indians, and have been shutout an American League high eight times.
Manager Ron Gardenhire, for the second straight Saturday against the Indians, was ejected. He protested the strike zone of home plate umpire Roberto Ortiz after he called a dubious third strike on Nick Castellanos in the fourth inning.
"It was just a little inconsistent," said Liddle, who ran the club in Gardenhire's absence. "Ron was yelling out of the dugout about it. Roberto didn't appreciate it, heard enough and sent him packing."
It was Gardenhire's sixth ejection of the season, two off his career-high.