Turnbull, Schreiber keep Tigers eager for 2020

In season finale, young talent shows flashes of what's to come

September 29th, 2019

CHICAGO -- The Tigers’ 114th and final loss of 2019 came and went Sunday, the 5-3 Detroit defeat unfolding like many of the 113 before. And yet, as rookie right-hander John Schreiber headed out to the bullpen Sunday afternoon, he wasn’t looking forward to the end.

“I was actually really excited today walking down to the bullpen, really excited to get in there today,” the reliever said before striking out the side in the seventh inning. “As I was walking down to the bullpen today, I was like, ‘This is really cool.’ I felt like I belonged, ready to compete against these guys and go toe-to-toe with them. I had a lot of adrenaline in me, and it got me excited for what’s to come.”

That’s the type of enthusiasm the Tigers relied upon to get through what manager Ron Gardenhire hopes is the toughest part of the rebuilding project he inherited two years ago. That was the fuel that kept Gardenhire and his coaches plugging away through the misery.

“A long season; a tough season,” Gardenhire said. “Need to rest, need to take a step back and wind down, get my health back, all of it. Broken brain.”

Sunday was a microcosm of the season, with glimmers of hope tucked into another disappointing result. As worked his way through the White Sox lineup over the first five innings, suffering a lone unearned run in the first, he looked like the confident, hard-throwing right-hander who was a dark-horse American League Rookie of the Year Award candidate for the first two months of the season.

A four-run sixth inning fueled by an Eloy Jiménez RBI double doomed Turnbull (3-17) to his 17th defeat, tying Justin Verlander’s 2008 campaign for the most losses by a Tigers starter since Mike Maroth suffered 21 losses in '03. Yet with seven strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings, a mid-90s power fastball, sharp slider and little hard contact before his final frame, Turnbull had reason not to let a disappointing end spoil the rest.

“It was very nice, good to see him throwing the ball very well,” Gardenhire said. “After he’s kind of cleared his mind and just let it fly, he’s been throwing the ball really well. That’s the guy we started [the season] with. He can do some damage.”

Turnbull struck out 28 batters in 21 1/3 innings over his final three starts, but he finished winless in that stretch. He went 0-13 over his last 18 starts since his last win May 31, despite the late-season revival.

“I’m happy with how I finished for the most part,” Turnbull said. “It’s just frustrating how I can dominate for stretches but not be able to keep it consistent. Definitely something to work on in the offseason, figure out what goes wrong in some of those innings and see if I can clean some of that up. But all in all, I’m happy with the way I finished.”

While Turnbull struggled to leave the sixth inning on a high note, left for pinch-runner in the top of the inning after a well-placed bunt single. It wasn’t because of injury, but because of numbers: His single allowed him to finish the season batting .304, making him the only Tiger batting .300 or better for the season.

“I told him if he got a hit, great. If he didn’t get a hit in his first few at-bats, I was taking him out,” Gardenhire said. “I think that’s important. I think he deserved it.”

The same could be said for Schreiber, who closed out an encouraging stretch run following a rough introduction to the Major Leagues last month. He yielded two runs over his final 7 2/3 innings with 12 strikeouts in his bid to enter Spring Training with a claim for a bullpen spot in Detroit.

“Just having a couple good outings build up my confidence, that’s when I think it set in that I can compete against these guys,” Schreiber said.

These are the morsels that kept Gardenhire and his coaching staff going through all the losses, all the teaching they had to do, sometimes over and over to an often-overmatched group of talented young players. Though they avoided the franchise record of 119 losses a while back, back-to-back strikeouts from and not only finished off the Tigers’ 114th loss, it pushed the Tigers to a Major League record with 1,595 strikeouts in a season, eclipsing last year’s White Sox.

Gardenhire and his staff knew this was going to be a rough year. Still, he admitted, the strikeouts were surprisingly high.

“We knew it coming in that this was going to be probably -- hopefully -- the roughest part of the rebuild,” Gardenhire said. “Hopefully we do a little better next year. We knew it coming in, and we knew we were going to get really young as the season went on, and everything that we talked about happened. We started off playing pretty good, and then we got injuries and it went right down the hill, and all we had were kids left to put in. And there you have it.”