Detroit — These wins the Tigers are accruing in the first two weeks of the season have gone from gritty to almost clinical.
The 7-2 win over the Reds at Comerica Park Friday night, their third straight win over what was expected to be a top-level Cincinnati team, was by-the-numbers — strong starting pitching, timely hitting and a lockdown bullpen.
"When you are facing their starter (Luis Castillo), it's never going to be easy," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That guy is unbelievable, what an array of pitches he's got. And what you try to do is hang in there as long as you possibly can and our starter was fantastic.
"He had nasty stuff and he was just really rocking through it."
Spencer Turnbull no-hit the Reds for four innings before relinquishing a pair of runs in the fifth — doubles by former Tiger Nick Castellanos and Nick Senzel, and a bloop, one-handed single by Tucker Barnhart.
That was all the damage he allowed (other than a harmless second inning walk that stopped the Tigers' streak of 28 innings without a base on balls — third-longest in the last 50 years). He finished the outing with a clean, nine-pitch sixth.
"His fastball command was excellent," said Tigers catcher Austin Romine, who made sizable contributions offensively and behind the plate. "And I think that took its toll on the other team. They couldn't get comfortable with a lot of pitches coming with different movement in different ways."
Of his 87 pitches, Turnbull threw 33 four-seamers and 25 two-seamers, all between 93 and 97 mph.
"We didn't use the slider much tonight," Romine said. "Lot of two-seamers and four-seamers, pairing it with change-ups down."
Turnbull struck out six and got nine swings-and-misses and 16 called strikes. The average exit velocity on the balls put in play against him was a soft-ish 87.9 mph.
"His confidence is getting higher and higher," Romine said. "When he's one the mound he's all business. He's got a bulldog mentality and he's in command of his pitches and his line showed that."
Six days ago in Cincinnati, Castillo flummoxed the TIgers, striking out 11 in six innings. They had much better at-bats on Friday, especially from the bottom of the batting order.
"We swung the bats pretty well," said left fielder Christin Stewart, who struck out twice against Castillo in Cincy. "The guy's got nasty stuff, but I think we did a good job of sticking to our approach today, always hunting the heater but not chasing as much out of the zone."
Stewart, hitting in the No. 7 spot, had two hits and scored a run. Romine hitting eighth had two hits and a walk, with two RBIs and two runs scored. No. 9 hitter JaCoby Jones, whose early batting average is approaching .500, had a double, single and an RBI against Castillo.
"Being aggressive at the right time," Romine said. "I was trying to see the ball a little more and I took more pitches than I normally would. But I could see the ball. In Cincy the shadows were tough and the guy throws 100 mph with a good change-up.
"I could see the ball tonight and when they throw 100, you've gotta, kinda see it to hit it."
The Tigers saw it in the fifth, when they made matched the Reds' two-run top half. Stewart doubled (101.6 mph exit velocity), Romine doubled (107 exit velocity) and Jones singled (112 exit velocity). Just like that, the Tigers regained the lead.
And they kept scoring.
Singles by Victor Reyes, Stewart and Romine produced a run in the six and knocked Castillo out of the game. A heads-up play by pinch-runner Travis Demeritte, just recalled from the taxi squad, made it a three-run cushion.
Running for Stewart, Demeritte went first to third on Romine’s single. Then, with two out, he aggressively broke for home on a pitch that bounced only a few feet away from catcher Barnhart, beating the throw with a head-first slide.
Romine, by the way, went first to third on a single in the game and scored from second on a single. Pretty good for the big catcher. He was asked who was faster, him or his brother, former Tiger Andrew Romine.
"Oh, no doubt he's faster than me," Austin said, laughing. "I got 30 pounds on him. It takes a little while for me to get moving. For me it's just head down, run hard. It's hard for me at times but I like to think I can move just enough."
That left it up to the bullpen to bring it home, and it did so with nine straight outs.
Left-hander Gregory Soto put on a show in the top of the seventh. He threw eight pitches, all sliders, all of them between 97 and, on a three-pitch strikeout of pinch-hitter Matt Davidson, 100 mph. Soto is becoming a phenom — he has put down 14 of the 15 hitters he’s faced with eight strikeouts.
"I was trying to find a way to get the slider in there," Romine said, half-joking. "But he was blowing 99-100. It's hard to call a slider when he's blowing doors off."
Buck Farmer had the eighth and got three quick outs, two on ground balls and a lazy fly to center. Farmer has faced 17 batters without allowing a hit, a walk and a safe-on-error the only smudges.
Closer Joe Jimenez's services were not needed on this night. A two-run double by Demeritte off Raisel Iglesias in the bottom of the eighth wiped out the save opportunity.
Bryan Garcia handled the ninth with admirably, closing it out in 10 pitches.
The win, which improved the Tigers record to 5-3, was Turnbull's first since last May. He did not ask to keep the game ball, though.
"I really don't care for that stat at all," he said. "To me, it's the least important stat. Now, team wins, that's a different story."