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Seeking rebound, Turnbull turns in perfect debut

@beckjason
February 25, 2020

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The first three pitches of the spring from Spencer Turnbull registered at 94, 96 and 95 mph on the Joker Marchant Stadium radar gun, striking out Andrés Giménez to begin Tuesday’s 9-6 Tigers win over the Mets. He was pitching at regular-season speed like he was trying

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The first three pitches of the spring from Spencer Turnbull registered at 94, 96 and 95 mph on the Joker Marchant Stadium radar gun, striking out Andrés Giménez to begin Tuesday’s 9-6 Tigers win over the Mets. He was pitching at regular-season speed like he was trying to win a job.

He doesn’t have to win a job. Really, he doesn’t have to prove anything here. Like the Tigers, he knows he belongs. For someone who endured the rookie season Turnbull had last year, it’s a big step.

“Nothing’s given. I still have to earn everything,” Turnbull cautioned after his two perfect innings with four strikeouts Tuesday. “But I do feel like I’m in a much better position moving forward. I think I’m just a lot more confident in the way everything’s shaking out. I’m not as worried about stuff. I feel a lot more confidence. I believe in myself a lot more. I think I’ve proved a few things in the game, nothing big, but enough, I think, to show that I can play. And I think that was the biggest thing.”

Five pitchers in the expansion era have won three or fewer games with 17 or more losses in a season. Turnbull was just the second to do so in his rookie campaign. Craig Anderson went 3-17 as a swingman on the 1962 Mets after being selected from the Cardinals in the expansion draft. He would’ve led the team in saves with four had it been an official stat at the time.

Anderson pitched in seven more games in his Major League career and was out of baseball by 1964. Turnbull, by contrast, has a future.

Nobody in the expansion era suffered a 3-17 record or worse with a better ERA (4.61), higher strikeout percentage (22.3) or lower walk percentage (9.0) than Turnbull. Only Jose DeLeon, a 2-19 pitcher on the 1985 Pirates, had a better Fielding Independent Pitching than the 3.99 clip Turnbull posted.

As Turnbull went into the offseason looking to improve, he didn’t tinker with his pitches or overhaul his mechanics. He improved his fitness and his mentality.

“I had to show myself and others that I can play at this level, and I think I at least proved that to myself,” Turnbull said. “I don’t know if everybody else agrees with that or not, but I proved it to myself. I think moving forward, it’s just a different mindset. I think the biggest thing is mindset.”

On the workout side, Turnbull uprooted himself from his offseason home in Alabama and moved to Nashville, Tenn., to work out with a group of players that included former Tigers teammate James McCann and Mets pitcher Steven Matz. Instead of working on raw strength, he looked for durability and efficiency, hoping to feel better throughout the season and avoid the midseason slump he felt last year.

He connected with the trainer who developed Matthew Boyd’s routine and formed a nutrition plan. He traveled with Boyd to Uganda as part of Boyd’s Kingdom Home project and gained an off-the-field perspective.

“I think just being able to be more confident just all the way around,” he said. “I don't like to use the word relaxed, just more calm, trying to be more present and more aware. I've got a lot of growing to do in a lot of areas, but I've worked on some stuff.”

For what it’s worth, Mike Maroth and Jeremy Bonderman went 9-21 and 6-19, respectively, on the 2003 Tigers, the first full Major League season for both of them. Both had ERAs well over 5.00. Both came within a game of .500 records the next year. Bonderman was over .500 the year after that -- Maroth finished even at 14-14.

Turnbull isn’t sweating it.

“I believe I’m a winner, even if the record doesn’t show it,” Turnbull said. “I hope the record does show it this year, but like I said, a lot of that’s out of my control. I’m just focused on doing what I can do to help the team win and put us in a good position, let the chips fall where they may.”

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.