DETROIT -- The slider from Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull wandered over the part of the plate where Jason Kipnis could do damage. Kipnis, batting cleanup in Cleveland’s lineup on Sunday, didn’t miss it, sending it over the right-field fence for a two-run home run that put the Indians comfortably on
DETROIT -- The slider from Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull wandered over the part of the plate where Jason Kipnis could do damage. Kipnis, batting cleanup in Cleveland’s lineup on Sunday, didn’t miss it, sending it over the right-field fence for a two-run home run that put the Indians comfortably on their way to a three-game series sweep at Comerica Park.
“A very poorly thrown slider, for sure,” Turnbull said afterwards.
It was the lone homer off Turnbull on Sunday, and it certainly wasn’t the main reason for the 8-0 Detroit defeat. The Indians again outperformed the Tigers on the basepaths, turning ground-ball hits into RBIs, from the Oscar Mercado hit-and-run infield single that scored Francisco Lindor from second in the 3rd, to the Mercado two-out bloop single an inning later that plated two add-on runs.
• Box score
Still, while Turnbull didn’t deserve the extent of the six-run damage he sustained over five innings, tying a career high, Sunday illustrated the struggle he faces as his first full Major League season nears its midway point. After his dominant stretch from late April through much of May helped keep Detroit’s rotation together amidst a rash of injuries, the talented 26-year-old now faces the challenges of adjusting to hitters who have adjusted to him.
His slider hasn’t kept hitters as honest against his fastball lately, forcing him more toward his curveball as a secondary pitch. His command has been in and out. And his struggle to produce swings and misses at times has sent his pitch count up in a hurry.
It’s a reminder, pitching coach Rick Anderson said, that he’s still a rookie who was pitching at Double-A Erie at this point last season.
“He's a work in progress,” Anderson said. “That's what I tell everyone: Think about where he was a year ago. He's come a long, long, long way. Games like today, those things happen, but he's come a long way from where he's been. He's building.”
It’s not a great consolation for Turnbull. He wants to do more than progress; he wants to compete.
“You want to give your team a chance, and I didn’t really do that today,” he said. “Just one of those days where you're trying to figure something out and have a hard time getting there. You still have to compete and battle with what you've got.”
The Indians taxed Turnbull for 91 pitches over four innings when they met here two months ago, saddling him with three runs on eight hits. Only one of those hits went for extra bases, a home run off the bat of Leonys Martin. From the 10-pitch at-bat Turnbull had with Lindor to lead off Sunday’s game, eventually striking him out following five foul balls, Turnbull was in for another battle.
“They were fouling off a lot of pitches, and that's what those guys do,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I think you saw that throughout the game. They stand in there, they fight off tough pitches and they finally get one good and they put it somewhere.”
Turnbull (3-6) lasted five innings over 92 pitches, but drew just seven swinging strikes, five of them off his fastball. He threw more curveballs (14) than sliders (12), but drew one swinging strike and no called strikes from the two pitches combined.
“I didn't think either one of them were super sharp today,” Turnbull said. “I threw some good ones, but they were too inconsistent. When I needed to make a pitch, I wasn't able to.”
“He just has to strike it,” Anderson said, referring to Turnbull throwing his slider for strikes. “Once he strikes it, that's going to open it up. But he's just yanking it off a lot more. Once you throw it for strikes, then they have to respect it, but he's not consistently throwing it for strikes. So they're just spitting on it and eliminating it, trying to go to the other pitches.”
Turnbull hasn’t always struggled during this stretch, as Tuesday’s outing against the Royals showed, but he has struggled to pitch deep into games. He has two quality starts in his last eight outings.
Turnbull won’t have to wait long for a rematch. His next start should fall next weekend in Cleveland, where he made his Major League debut against the Indians last September.
“I’ve got them again this weekend. It’ll be good to hopefully iron out some things, give a little better performance,” Turnbull said. “You can’t worry about results, but it’s definitely frustrating.”
• Gardenhire, Castellanos on taking reps at 1B
He wasn’t the only one. By the end of Trevor Bauer’s first career shutout, the Tigers looked awash in frustration, the manager included, and it carried into their at-bats and their hustle. While Gardenhire has shown an abundance of patience with his young, injury-depleted team, that sight Sunday drew him into the clubhouse for a postgame meeting with his players.
“I'm not very happy,” he said. “I respect the heck out of these guys out here in this clubhouse because they play the game. They play it hard. But [when] you get frustrated and you pop a ball up, you still owe it to everybody sitting on that bench and everybody on that team to run. It takes no talent whatsoever to run. Everybody gets that opportunity to run when they play baseball. And I let them know that.
“That's not the way we play the game. We run balls out, we do all those little things, and today just wasn't one of those days. And whether it's getting beat down too many times in a row, I don't know, but we have to fix that. So we had a conversation, and I think we'll be OK.”
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.