Detroit — Spencer Turnbull has learned in his last couple of starts what anybody who’s ever been stuck in quicksand already knows — the harder you try to climb out, the faster you sink.
“‘Less is more’ is going to be my motto for the rest of my life,” Turnbull said after pitching 5.2 scoreless innings in the Tigers’ 7-1 win over the Cubs at Comerica Park Tuesday.
He was virtually inconsolable after his start against the White Sox last Thursday. The harder he tried to throw hard, to throw strikes, the more frustrated he got. Two innings, 60 pitches, four walks.
He was a different cat on Tuesday — aggressive, imperturbable, and in command.
BOX SCORE: Tigers 7, Cubs 1
“In Chicago, there were a couple of things mentally I wasn’t doing well and I worked on that a little bit,” he said. “When guys got on base, I tried to do way too much. My delivery started quickening up, started worrying about the runners and I let some bad habits creep in.
“This week I really concentrated on slowing everything down mechanically and not trying to throw hard. Less is more. And I got my delivery back to where I want it to be.”
Protecting a 2-0 lead, his mettle was tested in three straight innings.
►He faced Javier Baez with two on and two out in the third, the inning prolonged by a Jeimer Candelario error at first base. In a seven-pitch battle, in which Baez somehow fouled off a wicked 2-2 slider after taking a 95-mph fastball at the top of the zone, Turnbull went to the whip. Baez fouled off a 98-mph two-seamer and then flew out to right on a 97-mph two-seamer.
“Just slow down, stick with my delivery and don’t try to muscle up,” Turnbull said. “You know, I stayed closed, my arm quickened up and the ball comes out better. I hit 98 for the first time in like four years.
“And it felt way easier. I was throwing harder but I wasn’t trying to throw hard.”
►He struck out Victor Caratini with two outs in the fourth after Jason Heyward tripled.
►He struck out Anthony Rizzo (95-mph four-seamer) and got Baez to line out after he walked two in the fifth.
“Just going back to what got me in trouble last week,” he said. “With runners on, or I walked people and I got frustrated with myself and tried to do too much, trying to throw a bunch of unhittable pitches instead of staying within myself, staying calm and trusting my stuff.”
Then in the sixth, with his pitch-count climbing toward triple digits, he fell behind Heyward 3-0 with a runner at second. But he threw three straight strikes, a fastball and two sliders, the last inducing a weak foul pop-up to third baseman Isaac Paredes for the second out.
Heyward snapped the bat in half over his thigh in frustration.
At 97 pitches, Turnbull very reluctantly gave the ball to manager Ron Gardenhire. But he was the first to yell out ‘Yes!’ after reliever Bryan Garcia ended the inning by striking out Caratini.
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“We trust Bryan in all kinds of situations,” Gardenhire said. “I just didn’t want our starter to give up a run. I thought he threw so well. He argued with me. He said, ‘Give me one more hitter.’ I told him, ‘I just did.’
“Bryan was a good match-up there. He’s been throwing the ball good and he’s got that good, hard slider. We had the right guy there.”
Still, it was an impressive, controlled performance by Turnbull, who in six starts has matched his win total (three) from last season when he made 30 starts.
Turnbull allowed just three hits. He walked three and struck out five. He only got seven swings-and-misses, but he pitched to contact very effectively, using his four-seam (52 with a velocity range of 92-96 mph) and two-seam fastballs (23, 90-98 mph) up and down in the strike zone.
“The mood (in the clubhouse) is in a good place now,” Turnbull said. “We were struggling there for a few days. You lose that many in a row (nine) and it’s hard to stay positive. But I thought we did a good job of continuing to show up every day and we’ve been able to turn it around a little bit.”
The Tigers missed a chance to deliver a knockout punch right out of the gate.
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They scored two quick runs off oft-injured Cubs starter Tyler Chatwood in the first inning. Victor Reyes doubled and scored on a single by Miguel Cabrera. Candelario followed with a double and Niko Goodrum walked to load the bases.
JaCoby Jones, fighting out of an 0-2 hole, lined a sacrifice fly to right field.
But that was all the runs they would get out of that 37-pitch first inning. Chatwood retired Austin Romine, stranding three runners.
Chatwood then walked the bases loaded in the second with one out and his day was done. Right-hander Duane Underwood, Jr., came in throwing slow change-ups and slower loopy curveballs and struck out Candelario and Goodrum.
Five walks in two innings and none came around to score for the Tigers.
But they rendered that missed opportunity irrelevant with a five-run sixth — capped by Jonathan Schoop’s fourth career grand slam.
After being shut down for three innings, the Tigers finally got to reliever Jose Quintana. Jones singled and scored from first on a double by Cameron Maybin, who made his first start since Aug. 20 (quad tightness).
Quintana was relieved by Casey Sadler after he walked Romine. Paredes, who had singled and walked earlier in the game, worked a nine-pitch walk to load the bases.
Schoop, with one out, pole-axed a 94-mph sinker and hit it 400 feet on a line into the bullpen in left-center field. It was his seventh home run on the season.
“We feel good right now,” Schoop said. “We went through a bad stretch, but we’re still in it. That’s what we told the guys. Everybody is going to go through a bad stretch. We had ours. Now good things are going to happen.”
The two players the Tigers got from the Cubs in the 2017 trade for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson had big nights. Candelario had a double and a single. Paredes walked twice and a pair of singles.
Jones left the game in the seventh inning with tightness in his right calf. Maybin also came out of the game after the sixth inning. Gardenhire said he was just dealing with heavy legs in his first game back after a week layoff.
The Tigers improve to 12-16.