Detroit Tigers' Spencer Turnbull shows he can pitch in starting rotation
Detroit Tigers pitcher Spencer Turnbull looked solid in the second start of his big-league career on Tuesday. His growth shows he's capable of contending for a starting rotation spot next season.
MINNEAPOLIS — On the day of his second major league start, Spencer Turnbull learned a veteran lesson.
Hours before his Tuesday night start against the Minnesota Twins, the Detroit Tigers’ rookie right-hander stood impatiently at the elevator door on the Target Field concourse.
He paced back and forth, watching his teammates play catch in left field. He wore earbuds and pulled them out to say, “This is the slowest elevator ever.”
In his first start, on Sept. 20 against the Kansas City Royals, Turnbull allowed the big league game to speed up on him. He lost control and left the game with a sour but educated taste in his mouth.
And early in his second start, he was forced to apply those lessons.
Turnbull’s night began with two hits and a run, but he recovered to strike out the next three batters in the bottom of the first inning and settled in to pitch six solid innings. The Tigers won, 4-2, and Turnbull received a shower of purple Gatorade for slowing things down.
“After the back-to-back hits, it started to speed up on me again,” he said. “But going through that last week and knowing that I just needed to slow myself down definitely helped.”
Joe Mauer greeted Turnbull with a single and in front of home plate, James McCann did his part to help out the youngster, pausing so the home fans could acknowledge Mauer passing Harmon Killebrew on the Twins’ all-time total bases list, but after a wild pitch and a double, he didn’t need to do any more.
“I saw him take a step off the mound, take a deep breath and get back on there,” McCann said. “That was kind of the turning point for me. From then on, it was weak contact, getting ahead in the count and making those guys miss.”
When Turnbull got back on the mound, he struck out Jake Cave on 10 pitches and then made quick work of the next two batters, striking both out to end the inning.
He allowed four more singles and one walk, never allowing the Twins to threaten again. The outing allowed the Tigers to keep the game close until the eighth inning, when they finally broke through with four runs for the win. But things could have been different if not for the lessons learned in his first start.
“I was very deliberate after those first two hits to step off the mound and just take a couple really slow deep breaths and that kind of helped my body to just calm down a little bit,” Turnbull said. “After getting those three strikeouts in a row, I felt good. I was definitely frustrated that I let the first two guys get on but I felt like that was avoidable if I just executed my pitches better.”
Turnbull threw six innings, allowing one run on six hits. He struck out five batters and walked one, showing the kind of stuff that should provide him an inside track to next year’s starting rotation.
“After the first inning, he was kind of irritated with himself, but after that, he really settled in and started throwing the ball,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I guess he had a good talk with himself — no one else did.”
The words of pitching coach Rick Anderson were already in his mind.
Anderson’s first question to Turnbull after his four-inning start against the Royals was, “What did you learn about this outing?” The answer: He let the game speed up on him.
“The impressive part for me,” McCann said, “His first start didn't go the way he wanted to and then the first two guys immediately, ‘Bang, bang.’”
And in his first real opportunity in the major leagues to make an adjustment, he did. It wasn’t anything mechanical, rather mental. Something that often times takes pitchers multiple failures to learn, Turnbull applied in his second start.
“It was a really, really good performance by him,” Gardenhire said. “A good bounce-back from the last one. Now, he sees he can do it.”
And most importantly, knows how to slow the game down.
“After I got through that,” he said, “I felt back to my normal self, just ready to pitch.”
Contact Anthony Fenech: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech.