A positive COVID-19 test barred him from joining the Tigers until April 21, but his first start went well. He tossed five innings of one-run ball in his return. After that, his confidence lacked, and the results weren’t pretty: He gave up 11 runs (nine earned) across 14 innings in his next three starts.
But Turnbull, 28, thinks he’s back on track.
“I just kind of got away from myself,” Turnbull said Thursday, after pitching into the seventh inning in a 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals. “I don’t exactly know what was going on, but mechanically and mentally, just didn’t feel like myself. Definitely felt more like I should feel today.”
Turnbull paced the Tigers (13-24) with 6⅓ innings at Comerica Park, guiding them to four wins in a row and a three-game sweep of the Royals. He allowed one run on six hits and one walk, while registering seven strikeouts.
“It was one of his better days of being able to locate his pitches,” Hinch said. “Even his misses were just barely missing. He was doing what he wanted to do with the ball. It was a really efficient and good day for him throwing strikes.”
In the second inning, Jorge Soler reached on a throwing error by shortstop Niko Goodrum. It was Goodrum’s fourth error in the past six games. The next batter, Andrew Benintendi, singled to center field.
With two runners on, Turnbull stayed mentally strong. He attacked Ryan O’Hearn for a strikeout swinging with an elevated fastball, and then he needed just three pitches to dispose of Hunter Dozier and Michael A. Taylor to escape the jam.
“When it comes down to it, it’s execution,” catcher Eric Haase said. “Turnbull did that fantastic today. Game plan or no game plan, he did follow it well, but when it came down to making a big pitch in a big situation, he did it every time.”
Offense keeps rolling
Facing Royals starter Daniel Lynch, making his third-career MLB start, the Tigers scored all the runs they needed in the bottom of the second. The 24-year-old allowed a bloop single to start the frame after battling with Miguel Cabrera for eight pitches.
After Niko Goodrum was called out on strikes, the offense collected three hits in a row: Eric Haase’s double, Willi Castro’s RBI single and JaCoby Jones’ RBI single. Akil Baddoo tossed in a sacrifice fly, and Robbie Grossman roped an RBI single to center field for a 4-0 lead.
“We had five or six really good at-bats in the inning that we put together,” Hinch said. “Hard hit after hard hit … and then tacked on as we got a couple of runs across. We built his pitch count up by being pretty disciplined, and then we attacked him when we had pressure on him.”
In the past eight games, the offense is 84-for-283 (.297) with 10 doubles, four triples, four home runs, 37 walks and 79 strikeouts. The Tigers have a 5-3 record during this stretch.
“It’s just such a different mentality when you start winning, win a few in a row and get a sweep,” Turnbull said. “It’s just been a little bit since we’ve had that feeling. We’re a good team. We knew we were a good team in spring training. We feel like we’re a good team now.
“For whatever reason, with everybody scuffling at the same time, it’s just hard to get that momentum going back. Baseball is such a game of everybody playing off each other. It’s such a momentum game.”
Once Turnbull got into the third and fourth innings, he started turning to his slider. His four-seam fastball dominated his pitch mix, but his slider carried him. He threw 41 four-seamers, 21 sliders, 18 two-seam fastballs, 12 curveballs and seven changeups.
The increased usage of his slider caught the Royals by surprise.
“We used a little more curveball, kind of up and down, playing off his high fastball,” Haase said. “He established that really well, which kept the entire bottom of the (strike) zone open. When we needed a pitch, that slider was right there.
“And they hadn’t seen it a whole lot, so that’s why he had a ton of success with it.”
The Royals swung at 12 sliders from Turnbull — and they missed 10 times. Of Turnbull’s 16 swings and misses, he earned 10 whiffs with his slider, five with his four-seamer and one with his curveball. He also got 12 called strikes.
The only run Turnbull issued came in the fifth inning. He hit Taylor with a pitch and then allowed a single to Nicky Lopez. Although Whit Merrifield grounded into a double play, he pushed home Taylor to put the Royals on the board with two outs.
Kansas City’s second and third runs were scored in the ninth inning against closer Gregory Soto, who pitched all three games in the series. A walk, double, ground out and single trimmed the Royals’ deficit to one run.
“He was pumping 99 (mph) to the first hitter,” Hinch said about Soto. “I think it was an easy decision for him to come into the game. The first (game) of the three in a row was relatively light. … Leadoff walk really sets the whole inning.”
Hinch turned to emergency closer Michael Fulmer.
For Fulmer’s second career save, Soler popped out to second baseman Willi Castro and Benintendi struck out swinging on three pitches to strand pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson at first base.
The combination of Turnbull, Fulmer and quality at-bats in a four-run second inning handed Kansas City its 11th loss in a row.
“I love him at the end of the game like that,” Turnbull said about Fulmer. “He’s got the mentality and mindset for it, just coming in and close the door. It’s awesome to see.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.