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'Troublemaker' Turnbull gets into, then out of it

Righty holds Tribe to two runs in five innings, but Tigers' bats go cold
@beckjason
June 22, 2019

CLEVELAND -- Spencer Turnbull’s 98th pitch of Saturday was a curveball that he dropped on the outside corner to freeze Indians All-Star candidate Carlos Santana for a called third strike with two runners on. It’s generally Turnbull’s third-best pitch, but it has taken on more importance for him as hitters

CLEVELAND -- Spencer Turnbull’s 98th pitch of Saturday was a curveball that he dropped on the outside corner to freeze Indians All-Star candidate Carlos Santana for a called third strike with two runners on. It’s generally Turnbull’s third-best pitch, but it has taken on more importance for him as hitters stop chasing his slider.

Turnbull threw two more pitches to cleanup hitter Jason Kipnis to escape the fifth-inning jam, pushing his total to 100 pitches for the day. With nine baserunners over those five frames, Turnbull could’ve easily been five or six runs down rather than the 2-0 deficit that stood as the final margin at Progressive Field in Detroit’s third straight loss. The fact that the Tigers were close late was a tribute to Turnbull’s resourcefulness on a day when little of his arsenal was working.

Box score

“I told him after he was done, ‘If you do as good of a job of staying out of trouble as you do getting out of trouble, you’ll win a Cy Young Award. I’m gonna have to call your parents to ask them if you were a little troublemaker,’” said Tigers bench coach Steve Liddle said.

Turnbull didn’t dispute it.

“I'm pretty good at getting out of trouble,” he said. “I just get myself in trouble a lot.”

That’s the conundrum Turnbull is facing these days.

“I'm trying to get ahead, but if I'm leaving it over the plate, they're hitting it,” Turnbull said. “So it's like, ‘Alright, how much can I leave it over the plate?’ It's tough with some of these guys, especially with guys in scoring position, you have to be really careful. In those situations, it's hard not to throw too many pitches, because you don't want to make a mistake. That's when the game blows up on you. So it's tough.”

Detroit took the loss because it couldn’t hit Indians starter Aaron Civale in his Major League debut, sending the club to its league-leading eighth shutout of the season and frustrating manager Ron Gardenhire toward his league-leading sixth ejection of the year.

The Tigers were in the game throughout, thanks to Turnbull's ability to make big pitches coupled with a strong performance by the defense behind him.

Turnbull threw 70 pitches over his first three innings, during which half of Cleveland’s 14 batters reached base. An alert play from left fielder Christin Stewart, backing up center fielder JaCoby Jones on Oscar Mercado’s drive off the wall to hold him to a double, set up a first-inning escape with a Stewart catch and throw to second off a hard liner by Carlos Santana for a double play.

A Brandon Dixon throw behind a retreating Jose Ramirez at third and a strikeout-throwout double play from catcher John Hicks got Turnbull out of a jam in one-run second that could have gone for more.

Turnbull bounced back from Mercado's bloop RBI single to strand the bases loaded to end the third, as Detroit’s bullpen began warming. Turnbull then retired the side in order to end the fourth before recovering from a single and hit-by-pitch to end the fifth.

Turnbull allowed two runs on six hits over five innings, a far better fate than the six runs on 10 hits he allowed over five innings and 92 pitches against the Indians last Sunday at Comerica Park.

On Saturday, he threw just 56 of his 100 pitches for strikes and got only three swings and misses, according to Statcast. Cleveland’s hitters averaged just under 92 mph in exit velocity, so their contact wasn’t soft. Yet with well-placed defense and five called strikes off curveballs, Turnbull survived, learning some lessons in the process.

“Neither one of my breaking balls were sharp in the first two innings, and then they got a little better later,” Turnbull said. “I threw some good curveballs today. For me right now, it's kind of just what's working, what's got more bite on it.”

Someday, Civale might have to learn those lessons, likely after hitters begin to learn him. But Saturday was his day to shine. Civale's only previous brush with the Tigers' organization was a 10-strikeout performance against Double-A Erie a few weeks ago. The Tigers had video, but it didn’t seem to help.

Not since former Indians outfielder Mark Whiten took the mound in a mop-up appearance had a Cleveland pitcher struck out the side in his first big league inning. Civale fanned four of Detroit’s first five hitters and retired the first eight batters he faced before a four-pitch walk to Dawel Lugo his second walk of the season.

Infield singles from Miguel Cabrera and Jones comprised all the hits off Civale, who counterbalanced a trio of walks with six strikeouts.

“That's what happens,” said Liddle, who managed most of the game after Ron Gardenhire was ejected for arguing balls and strikes with plate umpire Roberto Ortiz in the fourth inning. “You don't have a lot of information on a guy. He comes up and he does this. And the previous night, you get [Trevor] Bauer, who is one of the better pitchers in the league, arguably he's a Cy Young [Award] candidate every year. You see him twice in a five-day span and you're a little more familiar with his pitches. So anytime the hitters have a little more familiarity with a pitcher, it's always in favor of the hitter. You have a lot of matchups like that where the pitcher has to be able to do a few different things because the hitters have seen him five days prior.”

Turnbull did that Friday, which should help him avoid the troublemaker label in the long run.

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