Tigers vs. Pirates Preview: Spencer Turnbull debuts in game two

Bless You Boys

Ah Michigan, land of 70 degree days in January, and snow in late April. Frankly the weather on Tuesday wasn’t any worse than Opening Day, but conditions were a little slippery and the move to combine them into a pair of seven inning games today was a wise one. As a result, we’ve got the first game of the series getting underway at 2:10 p.m. ET, pitting Michael Fulmer against the Pirates’ Tyler Anderson, and then a sequel in the evening. A sequel that will feature the season debut of Spencer Turnbull.

The Red Bull hasn’t toed the bump since March 10. Instead, he dealt with a bout with COVID-19 which apparently cost him 10 pounds and has taken most of April to build back up from. As a result, the Tigers will still have him on a pretty strict pitch count. The original plan was to have Tarik Skubal piggyback Turnbull’s start, but with the game cut to seven innings we’ll have to wait and see if manager A.J. Hinch sticks with that.

As for the Pirates, they come into Comerica Park on a pretty good run over the last week. The temporary loss of top third base prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes means we won’t see their most exciting player, and the Tigers could probably use the break. Still with Colin Moran and Gregory Polanco, the Pirates do have some productive bats to deal with, but this isn’t a lineup Turnbull should have trouble with.

The Pirates starter for game two isn’t confirmed as of this writing, but as Mitch Keller was scheduled prior to yesterday’s postponement, we’ll assume he’s still getting the nod. You can also read our preview for game one here.

Time/Place: 6:40 p.m. ET, Comerica Park

SB Nation Site: Bucs Dugout

Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.tv, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Spencer Turnbull (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Mitch Keller (1-2, 8.74 ERA)

Game 18 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% HR/9 FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% HR/9 FIP fWAR
Turnbull (2020) 56.2 21.1 12.0 0.32 3.49 1.4
M. Keller 11.1 21.1 14.0 1.59 5.39 0.0

Spencer Turnbull enters the 2021 season looking to build on two consecutive seasons of quality work in the Tigers rotation. He remains a bit erratic and enigmatic, but the talent is undeniable. It’s worth being patient as he works off the rust, but we’re pretty excited to see if the new coaching staff can help him improve his consistency. The stuff is plenty good enough to be a strong frontline starter for years to come but he hasn’t shown he can put it together over a full season yet.

Keller hasn’t put it together yet either. He’s only 25, and in his short time in the major leagues he’s struggled with walks and inconsistent performance overall When he’s on, Keller is pumping a fairly high volume of mid-90’s fastballs at the top of the zone and locating the breaking balls down. A sharp slider is his best weapon, and he has a pretty good curve to mix in as an offspeed pitch. For the Tigers, the key will be patience, as Keller has a way of being all around the strike zone and exploiting aggressive approaches.

Last time out, Keller was bombed on by the San Diego Padres and knocked out of the game in the fourth inning with seven runs charged. But the Padres will do that to you sometimes. If he struggles to spot quality first pitch strikes, Tigers should take advantage, but their own tendencies to chase could see them in bad counts all day.

Key Matchup: Tigers split personalities

The flexibility provided by having multiple switch hitters in the Tigers lineup hasn’t really paid dividends thus far. Willi Castro, and Niko Goodrum in particular have struggled as left-handed hitters in the early going. Castro is at least making contact, but Goodrum has been a mess from that side. Victor Reyes isn’t doing anything on either side. Fortunately, Jeimer Candelario has been good from both sides of the plate, but the Tigers’ offense can’t afford much more of these issues with right-handers. Mitch Keller has some talent, but he’s hittable. Hopefully they swing the bats a little better today.

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