Houston — Early in the season when Spencer Turnbull would pitch himself into and out of jams, it was amusing.
"I'm good at getting out of trouble," he joked. "Which is a good thing, because I get into a lot of it."
These days, as his rookie season winds down and he's finding it hard to pitch more than a few innings each outing and the Tigers, after their 6-3 loss to the Houston Astros on Tuesday, have lost his last 11 starts -- well, it's less amusing.
"The kid has had some really good outings for us," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He had the back strain (over the All-Star break) and he's still regrouping from that. But he just labored.
"When you are playing these teams, the Astros and Tampa and we will play the Twins next, these guys can work you. They work counts and they know how to make you throw a lot of pitches."
Turnbull crammed 73 pitches, a bunch of walks, a couple of home runs and one spectacular escape into his three innings Tuesday night.
"It was a rough one for me," he said. "I felt really good in the bullpen but for whatever reason, when I got out there I just felt flat. I'm not sure why. Felt like it got better as I went along, but this wasn't my best tonight."
After Victor Reyes put the Tigers on top with a solo home run to lead off the game, Turnbull gave up back-to-back home runs to George Springer and Jose Altuve to start the bottom of the first.
"Not the way you want to start off," he said.
He hit Alex Bregman and walked Yordan Alvarez before getting a double-play ball from Yuli Gurriel to end the inning.
Alvarez, the Astros rookie who has 19 home runs this season in 55 games, walked four times.
"I wasn't trying to pitch around him or anything," Turnbull said. "I just didn't throw him a single pitch to hit."
Turnbull nearly escaped more trouble in the second. With runners at second and third and one out, he struck out Springer. Altuve then hit a slow roller that hugged the third-base line. It looked like it was going to roll foul and never did.
"That was just unfortunate," Turnbull said. "Then it kind of snowballed after that."
Altuve's infield hit scored one run, and then Michael Brantley followed with a two-run double. Just like that, the Astros had put up five runs off Turnbull and pushed his pitch count over 50.
"I think he was just trying to be a little too fine," Tigers catcher Jake Rogers said. "Trying to make the perfect pitch instead of trusting his stuff."
But just when you think he’s spent, he punches his way out of a first-and-third, no-out mess in the third inning. He struck out Josh Reddick, got Martin Maldonado to line out to Dawel Lugo at third and struck out Jack Mayfield on his 73rd and final pitch of the night.
A short but eventful night for Turnbull.
"Just frustrating," he said. "I felt like I could've made a better showing tonight if I was a little sharper. If I made a few better pitches tonight and got ahead of guys, it might've been different."
Try as they might, the Tigers couldn’t dig out of the hole. They bounced Astros starter Aaron Sanchez out of the game in a two-run third inning, but never delivered a true knockout punch.
They loaded the bases with no outs and scored the two runs on a bases-loaded walk to Miguel Cabrera and a ground out by Lugo. Lugo, with a full count and the bases loaded, reached out and tapped a pitch that would have been ball four.
"That's sort of been a theme for us," Gardenhire said. "We have a lot of young hitters who get excited in those situations. I don't think they really trust themselves to get behind in the count.
"They'll learn from it and hopefully get better."
Reyes had a pair of hits and a walk. He’s had seven multi-hit games over his last 10, hitting .380 over that stretch. Gordon Beckham, Cabrera and Jordy Mercer had two hits each.
Lugo, who doubled in the second inning, also saved a couple of runs in the fourth. With the bases loaded and two outs, he ranged to his left and fielded a high bouncer. He spun and threw a dart to get Gurriel by a half step.
Lugo also ran the Tigers out of a scoring chance in the second inning. He led off with a double and then, with one out, got thrown out at third on a hard-hit ground ball directly to shortstop Mayfield.
"We tell them to be aggressive and play smart, and sometimes those two things run together," Gardenhire said. "He wants to be aggressive. He felt he could get there but the ball was hit firm and it was an easy play.
"You just have to take the good with the bad. And you are going to get some bad, but you teach from it. It's all we can do."
The Tigers were without two of their hotter hitters. Travis Demeritte and Niko Goodrum were held out of the lineup with sore groins.
It was the fourth straight loss for the Tigers, their eighth straight to the Astros, and it drops their August record to 5-14. They have not won more than five games in a month since May.