The last two years haven’t been easy for Detroit Tigers infielder Zack Short. At last, he achieved one of his lifelong goals by making his MLB debut Wednesday.
The last month hasn’t been simple for right-hander Spencer Turnbull, either.
Turnbull tested positive for COVID-19, missed the beginning of the campaign and finally made his anticipated season debut in Game 2 of the seven-inning doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates, only a few hours after Short enjoyed the spotlight for his big-league debut.
The Tigers (7-11) split the doubleheader at Comerica Park.
“I don’t think it fully hit me yet,” Short said following the 3-2 loss in Game 1. “This is something I wanted to do my whole life. Every kid has that dream. I’ve gone through a lot, coming from having one scholarship offer out of high school. I’m very thankful.”
GAME 1: Tigers’ Michael Fulmer stung by singles in 3-2 loss to Pirates in Game 1
GAME 2: Tigers’ Spencer Turnbull turns it up in return for 5-2 win in Game 2
The Tigers made the 25-year-old a priority upon acquiring him from the Chicago Cubs at last season’s trade deadline. Fueled by newfound confidence, Short quickly made himself known within his new organization. He displayed MLB-ready skills during spring training and convinced manager AJ Hinch that he deserved to debut in 2021.
It happened Wednesday, when Short started at third base in Game 1 after the team added him to the active roster before the game. He went 0-for-1 with two walks and a crisp diving play on defense in the fourth inning.
“Drawing walks in your first game is not easy when you’ve got adrenaline and anxiousness and you want to impress everybody,” Hinch said. “He was very disciplined. He’s got a lot of baseball skills, and we saw a little bit of that today.”
Before the trade, which involved veteran outfielder Cameron Maybin, the Cubs didn’t have Short at their alternate training site, in part because of a broken finger in the 2019 season. His injury led to struggles, hitting .235 in 63 games that year in the minor leagues.
He felt a boost of poise when the Tigers immediately sent him to their alternate camp after last year’s trade. And it just kept getting better, from earning a spot on the taxi squad during the team’s recent 10-game road trip to entering the starting lineup.
“You get so close, and then an injury happens and sets you back a bunch,” Short said. “It’s awesome to debut, and I just want to make it as regular as possible. I’m living in the moment. I’m really excited that this day happened, but as soon as the second game starts, the first game is over.”
A CHANGE: Tigers shortstop Willi Castro will play some second base. Here’s why
MAILBAG: What is happening to rookie Akil Baddoo after strong start to career?
In Game 2, Turnbull made his first start this season. After testing positive for COVID-19 during spring training, the virus kept him from the big-league club for more than a month.
Turnbull didn’t disappoint.
He pitched five innings of one-run ball, giving up two hits and two walks while picking up six strikeouts. He got run support from homers off the bats of Niko Goodrum and Jonathan Schoop. The Tigers scored one run in the third, three in the fifth and one in the sixth. Left-hander Gregory Soto logged his second save this season.
Turnbull’s best pitch was his slider, which he used for 21 of his 61 total offerings. It also generated six of his eight swings-and-misses, as well as four of his 10 called strikes. Only five pitches were needed in the top of the fifth, including a three-pitch strikeout — capped off by a slider — for Turnbull’s final out.
“In the first inning, the feel was kinda iffy,” Turnbull said. “I didn’t have my command quite yet. But once I settled in, figured out my leg lift or whatever it was, I locked it in from there.”
STRUGGLING: Veteran Jonathan Schoop remembers past triumphs during present slump
In the first inning, Turnbull stumbled after quickly getting two outs. He allowed three consecutive batters to reach, giving the Pirates a 1-0 lead, but he bounced back with a strikeout of Gregory Polanco. He swung and missed at a slider to strand two runners in scoring position.
That’s when Turnbull knew his slider was A-plus.
“He was in the game for the sixth inning until we had that long inning and extended our lead,” Hinch said. “I just didn’t want him to have him sit there for 30-45 minutes, so I took him out. He could’ve given us a little more. I was really happy with how he bounced back from a tough first inning with the pitch count.”
Turnbull has done this before, and he’s going to pitch deeper into games as the season goes on. The Tigers are relying on him as a frontline starter alongside left-hander Matthew Boyd.
Short’s stint in the majors might be cut short because Miguel Cabrera is preparing to return from a left biceps strain. He could rejoin the team as soon as this weekend, and that might make Short the odd man out.
But Short is determined to be a part of the Tigers’ long-term plan, and Hinch seems to like what he offers as a versatile infielder.
“Shorty (made) a couple of nice plays in his debut,” right-hander Michael Fulmer, the Game 1 starter, said. Fulmer allowed three runs across four innings, recording three strikeouts. Lefty Tarik Skubal tossed the final three innings out of the bullpen as a part of Hinch’s modified six-man rotation.
To stick around, Short’s offense needs to carry him. He set the bar high with two impressive walks. In the third inning, he got behind 0-2 in the count but battled back for an eight-pitch walk. He worked another full-count in the fifth inning and took a seven-pitch walk.
Because the Tigers played a doubleheader, the games each went seven innings. Short stepped up to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the seventh — trailing 3-2 — against right-hander Richard Rodriguez. He went to his third full-count before flying out to center field to end the game.
“He was one of the brighter spots of the day,” Hinch said.
Short wasn’t sure if he would receive a game-used baseball for his MLB debut. If not, he hopes to get one soon for the next accomplishment in his young career.
“I’m working on a hit,” Short said.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.