Turnbull's outing encouraging, but Tigers losing skid hits 10 against Indians

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull delivers to Cleveland Indians' Oscar Mercado during the first inning.

Cleveland — All you can do these days, if you are the Tigers, is look for bright spots, silver linings, pockets of progress. 

There was none of the above Tuesday night in the rain-extended, 8-0 drubbing. But on Wednesday, in a 7-2 loss to the Indians — their 10th straight against the defending AL Central Division champs — there was an encouraging performance by rookie right-hander Spencer Turnbull.

"He gave us an opportunity to win," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "His stuff was really good. It was good bounce-back from his last outing. All you ever ask from a starting pitcher is to give you a chance. 

"He did that."

Turnbull’s last two starts, sandwiched around a 10-day stint on the injured list and the All-Star break, were abbreviated — the first by shoulder fatigue and the second, last Friday, by ineffectiveness. He totaled just five innings and 101 pitches in those two outings.

His ERA had climbed from 2.40 on May 16 to 3.59. And he hadn’t pitched six full innings since June 11. So, yes, there was some cause for concern. 

"Especially his last outing, he didn't throw the ball over," Gardenhire said. "He was pitching away from contact. When you have stuff like that, you need to make them hit it early to get deeper into the game.

"He did that. He pitched to contact with quality pitches."

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Turnbull went six solid innings, on an efficient 80 pitches, before exiting after allowing a leadoff double to Jose Ramirez in the seventh.

"Definitely a step in the right direction," Turnbull said. "There's still a lot to work on, but it was definitely better than last week."

Turnbull allowed two runs and three hits in the third inning. In the other five-plus innings, he allowed three hits. He only walked one, pitching to contact and getting quick outs. That was at least partially the product of rediscovering his sinker.

"That definitely helped," he said. "The sinker was better than it's been in a while. I was able to use my four-seam, two-seam combination tonight."

During the game on Monday, Turnbull and catcher Bobby Wilson sat next to each other in the dugout. Turnbull had thrown a side session earlier and Wilson was encouraged by what he saw.

“I was talking to him about using his two-seam (sinker),” Wilson said. “He uses his four-seam away and his sinker, trying to really master it to his glove side and his arm side so hitters can’t just hone in on one pitch or one kind of angle.

“It’s something we’ve been talking about the last couple of weeks. It would be helpful to have both.”

It was.

Coming into the game, opponents were hitting .345 against Turnbull's sinker and he’d nearly cut it out of his arsenal. He brought it back in a big way. Of his 86 pitches, 31 were sinkers. The Indians were 2-for-8 on the sinkers they put in play.

"You can't abandon a pitch," Turnbull said. "You just keep working on it and throwing it until you find it."

His breaking balls — the slider and curveball — are still under reconstruction.

"Just not able to find that snap on the curveball," he said. "The slider, for whatever reason, it's not biting quite like I need it to."

The Indians still put eight balls in play against Turnbull with an exit velocity of 100-plus mph.

But he had only one flashback to his old erratic ways. It came in the two-run third inning. He gave up singles to Mike Freeman and Tyler Naquin — with an errant pick-off throw to first mixed in. After walking Francisco Lindor to load the bases, Oscar Mercado hit a ball with an exit velocity of 104 mph that scudded past shortstop Harold Castro for a two-run single.

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"I just got out of rhythm there in the third and made a couple of unfortunate mistakes," Turnbull said. "Throwing that ball away at first and then falling behind on Mercado and hanging a breaking ball that cost a couple of runs."

Turnbull worked his way out of the rest of that jam and then got double-play balls to end the fourth and fifth innings.   

Ramirez ended up scoring after Turnbull departed in the seventh. With lefty Nick Ramirez pitching, he stole third base. With two outs, Freeman laid down a bunt. First baseman Brandon Dixon fielded it and had time to make the toss to first.

But he looked at Nick Ramirez, who was telling him second baseman Gordon Beckham was covering first. Dixon hesitated and Freeman beat the toss.

"Just communication," Gardenhire said. "We just got through telling Dixon the guy was probably going to bunt to you. And Beck talked to him and said he had the bag. Dixon just didn't look up. He looked at the pitcher.

"He's got to look around. Beck was on the bag."

Freeman did execute the bunt extremely well, squaring late and dragging it far enough to pull Dixon away from the bag.

"It's not really a play you expect with two outs," Dixon said. "Me and Beck talked about it before. I just didn't get the ball to him in time. My first instinct was to flip it to the pitcher. That's what cost it."

The Tigers, despite striking out an absurd 17 times in the game and 12 times in six innings against Indians starter Mike Clevinger, were within a run, 3-2, in the eighth. Nick Castellanos, who doubled and scored on a single by Jeimer Candelario in the sixth, blasted his 10th home run in the eighth.

It was Castellanos' first home run at Progressive Field since July 6, 2016. 

But the Indians torched Joe Jimenez in the bottom of the eighth. Jimenez, who last pitched on Saturday in Kansas City, was greeted by a no-doubter home run by Lindor, then a double by Carlos Santana and two singles.

"He got pitches up, centered the ball and they were pretty much on everything he threw out there," Gardenhire said. "He hasn't been out there in a while, so he was rusty. He got some pitches up, didn't make good pitches and they hit him and kept hitting him."

Four of the five hitters Jimenez faced reached and scored — the last two on a pinch-hit double by Greg Allen off Zac Reininger — to put the game out of reach.

The Tigers have lost eight of nine and are 7-30 since June 1, which is why they are focusing on pockets of progress. The game results are pure misery.


Twitter: @cmccosky