Detroit — There’s still miles to go, mind you. But sweeping the Kansas City Royals and winning four straight games is a solid step toward stability, if not full recovery.
The Tigers took that step with a 4-3 win on Thursday, extending the reeling Royals’ losing streak to 11 in the process.
“It’s just such a different mentality when you start winning a few in a row and get a sweep,” said Tigers right-hander Spencer Turnbull, who pitched 6⅓ strong innings. “It’s been a bit since we had that feeling. We’re a good team. We knew we were a good team in spring training and we feel like we’re a good team now.
“Baseball is such a game where everyone feeds off each other and it’s hard when everyone is struggling to keep that positivity. But you get a couple guys rolling and guys start getting hot, it’s contagious and everybody feeds off it. It’s fun to have that feeling again.”
As improbable as it may seem, though, this was Turnbull’s first career win against a Central Division opponent. He was 0-for-15 in the division before holding the Royals to a run and six singles.
“I saw that stat and I was like, ‘What? Seriously?'” he said. “There’s no way that I don’t have a win (in the division). Did I not get the win against Kansas City in the home opener in 2019?”
No sir. He struck out 10 and the Tigers won, but it was a no decision.
“From what I’ve seen, that was one of his better days as far as being able to locate his pitches,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Even his misses were barely misses. He was doing what he wanted to do with the baseball. Maybe he misfired here and there but it was a really efficient, good day for him.
“And once we got the lead he was super aggressive, which I really like. And that put-away slider was really effective.”
Turnbull’s slider befuddled the Royals. He threw 21 of them and none were put in play. Of the 12 they swung at, 10 were missed.
“The second and third time through the order he really started spinning the baseball well,” said catcher Eric Haase, who made his first start of the season. “We used a little more curveballs, too, up to down playing off his high fastball. He established that really well, which opened up the bottom of the zone.
“When he needed a pitch, that slider was right there.”
Turnbull posted seven strikeouts and induced eight ground ball outs.
“For whatever reason, mechanically I started scuffling the last couple of weeks and my mentality wasn’t where I wanted it to be either,” Turnbull said. “Today I was able to lock it back in and find the feel where I want my stuff to be, but also having that right mindset the whole time.
“Just being in attack mode and confident and not worrying if the stuff was going to be there or not.”
Things got a little hairy after Turnbull left.
The Royals put two runners on base in every inning from the fifth through the ninth.
Reliever Jose Cisnero, coming off a couple of rough outings that included blowing a four-run lead in the ninth on Tuesday, struck out Hunter Dozier and Michael A. Taylor to strand two in the eighth.
Lefty Gregory Soto was summoned to close it out. Pitching for the third straight day and having thrown 30 pitches in the previous two, things got messy.
He walked left-handed hitting No. 9 hitter Nicky Lopez and then gave up a double to Whit Merrifield after putting him in an 0-2 hole. Both would score, on a ground out by Carlos Santana and a bullet single by Salvador Perez.
“Pitching a third day in a row is tough and we did talk to him today and he said he felt great,” Hinch said. “And he was pumping 99 (mph) to the first hitter. It was an easy decision for me bring him into the game. The first of those three outings was relatively light and (Wednesday night) was a decent workload.
“But it was the leadoff walk that set the whole inning. As the inning got going, I targeted (Jorge) Soler as the spot I was going to stop (with Soto).”
With speedy pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson on first base and one out, Hinch brought in his new bullpen weapon, Michael Fulmer.
Dyson never moved off first. Fulmer got Jorge Soler to pop out and he struck out Andrew Benintendi on three pitches to earn his second save.
“Just a ton of confidence,” Haase said. “He’s been in big situations before. It’s a little different role for him but his stuff is the same. He’s a big-time pitcher and for him to look like he does now after everything he’s been through, it’s fantastic.”
As good as Fulmer has been recently, Hinch isn’t putting any labels on him, or anyone else in the bullpen.
“He’s obviously responded very well and got some big outs, but I think you’re going to see a combination of guys at the back end of games,” Hinch said.
The Tigers scored all four runs in the second inning off Royals rookie lefty Daniel Lynch. The Tigers strung together five hits, including a laser double off the wall by Haase. He’d seen three off-speed pitches before barreling up a 95-mph fastball.
“He’s got a really good heater,” said Haase, who had two hits in the game. “I know it jumps out of his hand. I was just — he’s got to come with the fastball at some point. He’s not going to throw me five (change-ups) in a row. Fortunately he gave me one I could handle.”
It was a pretty good season debut for the Dearborn Divine Child grad Haase, and he did it in front of a battalion of family and friends.
“Just a lot of fun,” he said. “Anytime you can catch a ‘W’ in the big leagues, there’s nothing like it.”
Growing up in Westland, his mother used to drive him to games in the early 2000s. And as Bally Sports’ Trevor Thompson reported during the game, his mother had to drive him to the game Thursday as well.
Haase’s truck is still in Toledo.