Aaron Hicks slammed his bat after striking out to strand the bases loaded in the third inning Saturday afternoon. Spencer Turnbull, who threw the high fastball that the Yankees outfielder chased for strike three, was just as angry, yelling at himself on his way off the mound. It was the rare strikeout where neither pitcher nor batter were happy, a sentiment that lingered after Detroit’s 6-4 loss at Yankee Stadium.
Yes, Turnbull escaped a jam with a strikeout, something he has done a few times over the past few years since breaking into the Tigers’ rotation. But he also walked two in his 31-pitch inning. DJ LeMahieu eventually scored on a Gleyber Torres two-out single. Mike Ford’s walk loaded the bases and extended the inning for Hicks, further pushing Turnbull’s pitch count.
“I was really frustrated with that,” Turnbull said. “I wasn’t getting ahead as well today. I wasn’t attacking the zone like I should have.”
As Turnbull watched from the Tigers’ dugout as Aaron Judge singled in two more runs in the sixth inning off José Cisnero, the starter wasn’t any happier. Both runners reached base off Turnbull without putting a ball in play. He hit Hicks with a 1-2 slider to begin the inning, after barely missing him with an 0-2 curveball on the previous pitch, then walked Gary Sánchez on five pitches to end his outing.
“I was really mad,” Turnbull admitted. “I was surprised I didn’t break anything in the dugout coming out of there.”
The emotion is typical Turnbull. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to step up, especially when the team is going through tough times. His outing was atypical for him this season, both with so many walks and so few strikeouts. The end result was familiar for the Tigers, but in a different fashion.
Though Detroit broke out of its three-game offensive slump its their highest run total since Tuesday, including home runs from Jeimer Candelario and Niko Goodrum, the add-on runs off Turnbull proved critical, leaving him with four runs on five hits over five-plus innings and leaving the Tigers feeling Murphy’s Law is in effect. Detroit’s 14th loss in 16 games was in different fashion than their usual low-scoring performances. It was also a winnable game at the end before Aroldis Chapman retired them in order in the ninth.
“I really want that one back,” Turnbull continued. “We had a really good chance to win going into the sixth, and then two batters totally changed it. So that one’s on me. Can’t happen.”
Without a feel for the slider, Turnbull looked Saturday like a classic sinkerballer, rather than a power pitcher who throws a sinker. While Turnbull averaged 94 mph with his fastball and 95.3 mph with his sinker, both well above his average from his previous two starts, he struggled to get both past hitters for strikes. The Yankees swung 27 times on his fastballs and sinkers, 39 times overall, and missed just twice -- including Hicks’ strikeout. Turnbull had 14 called strikes for the game, but also 17 foul balls.
Considering how mercilessly the Yankees homer off mistakes, keeping them in the park is impressive. He also kept them on the ground, inducing 11 ground-ball outs.
“My sinker was good today, had good movement on it,” Turnbull said. “I threw some good sliders; they just weren’t quite getting off the barrel. They just didn’t have quite as much late movement. They were still getting off the barrel enough to be weak contact. Normally those are more strikeouts, swings and misses, but it just wasn’t happening as much today, so you just go with what’s working.”
Four of the Yankees’ five hits off Turnbull were on the ground. The exception was the only ball they hit off him with a 100 mph exit velocity, a fifth-inning double from Judge. The 112.1 mph line drive scored DJ LeMahieu after his ground-ball leadoff single.
Three of Turnbull’s runs reached base without a ball in play. The slider that hit Hicks to begin the sixth came as Turnbull slipped on the mound, he said. But from there, he fell behind on Sánchez, who declined to chase three sinkers out of the zone, then watched a 3-1 slider drop. Cisnero walked Clint Frazier to load the bases, but nearly escaped before Judge’s two-out single.
Without the two baserunners, Turnbull could be celebrating a gutsy effort with less than his best stuff, a sign of maturation for a still-developing 28-year-old starter. Instead, he was glad not to break anything.