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The Bull's 'filthy' outing key to Tigers' sweep

@beckjason
August 9, 2020

The wait for baseball season this year led to plenty of classic games on television. So as Spencer Turnbull tried to coach himself on the mound through the sixth inning of Sunday’s 2-1 Tigers win over the Pirates, the comparison was natural. “A little bit of The Bird out there,

The wait for baseball season this year led to plenty of classic games on television. So as Spencer Turnbull tried to coach himself on the mound through the sixth inning of Sunday’s 2-1 Tigers win over the Pirates, the comparison was natural.

“A little bit of The Bird out there, huh, talking to himself,” joked catcher Austin Romine, who knows the history of Mark Fidrych in Detroit. “He does that. He’s locked into the game. He’s very invested in what he’s doing.”

Box score

Turnbull’s pep talk wasn’t quite like that classic Fidrych game against the Yankees 44 years ago. He wasn’t addressing the ball or patting the dirt. But as he went through his mental cues for pitches, he was definitely addressing himself.

“I was reminding myself of every point I could come up with today,” Turnbull said. “None of my mental cues were working. Physically, I was just not getting through my pitches at all. My slider wasn’t biting at all. Changeup was kind of floating. I threw one decent curveball and I hit [Colin] Moran in the foot with it. All the other ones were just spinning. My sinker was moving good, but it was more lateral movement, running away. I can’t tell you how many arm-side misses I had today with the sinker.”

He said this after tossing seven innings of one-run ball. The curveball that hit Moran led to the only Pirates’ run of the game. The sinkers that ran off the plate drove Pittsburgh’s left-handed hitters crazy, helping set up 11 ground-ball outs.

“When you get a guy that has the action that he does away from you and you do that, then you’re going to get a lot of ground-ball outs,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “That’s what he did. He kept us off-balance and kept us on the ground. We had a couple opportunities to score and just didn’t get the big hit.”

That’s what makes Turnbull so nasty. His pitches move a lot -- sometimes as intended, sometimes not. Even when he’s off, he can be difficult to hit. If he doesn’t know where a ball’s going, the hitter probably doesn’t, either.

“I thought he was filthy,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I thought his ball was moving all over. When you’re sitting that close to home plate, I thought the ball looked like it was dropping elevation. His sinker was going down so hard. His breaking balls look really good coming out of his hand.

“I thought he had great stuff today. I thought that glove was getting knocked backwards from Romine. I was impressed. They had some big hitters up there, and he was throwing it by a lot of [them].”

It was Romine’s job to try to put that arsenal to use.

“I think today we used his two- and four-seamers as maybe three different pitches,” Romine said. “His four-seam cuts. His two-seam sinks. We were keeping them honest.”

It didn’t result in Turnbull’s usual strikeout numbers. He induced just six swings and misses out of 92 pitches and recorded four strikeouts. Yet despite unpredictable command, Turnbull pounded the zone for 19 called strikes, all but one of them off his four- and two-seamers.

Moran advanced from first to third on back-to-back groundouts before Erik Gonzalez hit a hard ground ball that second baseman Jonathan Schoop couldn’t stop for an RBI single. The 104.7 mph exit velocity was the second-highest of the game. Turnbull shut the Pirates down from there, pumping himself up as he kept his team alive for Miguel Cabrera’s go-ahead RBI single in the eighth.

“He’s always talking,” Gardenhire said. “He's got his routine. He runs off the field, goes down the runway, we don't see him, the inning ends, we hear the towel popping about three times, and then he comes flying out of the dugout. So my job was to warn the people going down that side of the staircase not to get run over by The Bull.”

It’s working. Turnbull is 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA and two quality starts, having won back-to-back outings for the first time since April 2019. Winning this one was big, and not just for Detroit’s first sweep of a three-game road series since June 2018.

“I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that last year,” Turnbull said. “I think that’s a big testament to the mental side of the game that I’ve worked on really hard, being able to find a way to get the job done.”

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