Lakeland, Fla. — Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull was too efficient in his spring debut Tuesday. With his six-up-six-down outing against the Mets, he came up three batters short of facing his old SEC rival Tim Tebow, who was DHing and batting ninth.
“It’s no big deal, I’ve faced him before,” said Turnbull, who was at Alabama when Tebow was starring at Florida. “I faced him in the Arizona Fall League. I hit him.”
This was a mostly good day for the Tigers. They got back-to-back home runs from two players who are being counted on to hit a lot of them, Miguel Cabrera and C.J. Cron, in a 9-6 spring win over the Mets at Publix Field.
Riley Greene, the Tigers first-round pick last year, who is 19 and was invited over from minor-league camp, walked and hit a two-run home run. In five spring games, he's homered twice and walked three times.
But, more germane to the immediate future of the Tigers, it was also an early validation day for Turnbull.
After spending his offseason changing his agent, his diet, his workout routine and work habits, he blew through six Mets hitters in 25 pitches, striking out four of them. He threw 17 strikes and got six swings-and-misses.
“I just wanted to feel the adrenaline, feel my mechanics and feel the ball coming out of my hand,” he said. “I didn’t really care about results, though I am glad I got good results. But I was more concerned with how it felt and the action on my pitches.”
His two-seamer was hitting 96 mph in the first inning. His four-seamer settled in between 92-94. He had good command with his slider, curve and change-up. He was most pleased with the change-up he used to strike out Ryan Cordell swinging in the second inning.
The change-up was his fifth pitch and rarely used last season.
“I’m just trying to build momentum off how I finished last year,” he said. “And to see the results of how I feel physically after all I did this offseason.”
Turnbull, in his first full season in the big leagues, absorbed 17 losses last year, though there are metrics that show he didn’t pitch nearly as bad as the record would indicate. But, as he admitted, he got a little lost in the middle of the season. He had trouble commanding his pitches and controlling his emotions.
He made a concerted effort this offseason, even enlisting the help of mind-body performance guru Matthew Boyd, to calm everything down.
So far, so good.
“I feel good and I didn’t feel good last year,” he said. “I felt like I was sore every day last year.”
Turnbull, for a variety of reasons, isn’t as emotionally stressed this year. And as a result, he said he doesn’t feel as rundown.
“I remember last year thinking I put myself in a position to win a job when the offseason started,” he said. “Then they went and signed a couple veterans and I was like, ‘What do I need to do to get a job?’ They already had six starters, counting Michael Fulmer, I didn’t have any idea how I could fit into that rotation.
“That was a lot more stressful. I was trying to be the best pitcher ever in spring training just trying to make the team. And I think that took a lot out of my body.”
Not that he is taking anything for granted this spring, mind you. You don’t lose 17 games and come back cocky.
“Nothing is given, I still have to earn everything,” he said. “But I feel I’m in a much better position moving forward. I am more sure of how it’s shaking out. I am not worried as much about the outside stuff.”
Confidence. That’s the word he was looking for.
“I believe in myself more,” he said. “I proved a few things, nothing big, but enough to show that I can play. That was the biggest thing last year, not knowing if I could play or not. I think I showed I can play at this level — at least I proved that to myself.”
The Tigers offense erupted for five runs in the fifth inning off reliever Ryley Gilliam. Cameron Maybin singled in the first run and on the play Mets third baseman J.D. Davis jammed his shoulder diving for the ball.
He left the game and is expected to get an MRI when he gets back to Port St. Lucie
Cabrera, who singled his first time up, lashed a 94-mph fastball into the visitor’s bullpen — his first of the spring and a three-run shot.
Cron followed with another home run to right field putting the Tigers up 5-0 at the time.
Around the horn
David McKay, Bryan Garcia and Kyle Funkhouser followed Turnbull with scoreless innings. It didn’t go as well for veteran Alex Wilson, trying to win a job as a non-roster invitee.
The first pitch he threw in the sixth inning was smacked over the fence in right-center field by Jarrett Parker. Then, with two on, Tebow hit a 3-1 fastball onto to the berm beyond the left-center field wall.
... Paul Richan, a minor-league camper and one of the pitchers the Tigers got from the Cubs in the Nick Castellanos trade, got the final two outs in the inning.
... Right-hander Rony Garcia, whom the Tigers took with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 draft, stranded runners on second and third in the seventh, striking out Jake Hager, to preserve a one-run lead.
... Outfielder Troy Stokes, Jr., whom the Tigers claimed off waivers from the Brewers last September, had an impressive outing. He had a pair of doubles, the second put the Tigers up by two runs in the bottom of the seventh. He also stole third base and made a run-saving diving catch in left field.
... Right-hander Franklin Perez, the No. 6 prospect in the Tigers' system according to MLBPipeline, made his spring debut, pitching the ninth inning. He allowed a run and two hits.
... Right-hander Beau Burrows, a former first-round pick, was scheduled to pitch but was held out. Minor league camper Logan Shore replaced him and gave up a run in the eighth. Gardenhire said there was no injury; pitching coach Rick Anderson opted to see Shore and Perez.