If Grayson Greiner hadn’t sustained a left hamstring strain, a spot wouldn’t be open for Haase on the roster. If he hadn’t learned how to play left field, there’s no way manager AJ Hinch could have kept three catchers — with Jake Rogers and Wilson Ramos — on the roster. And after just 26 games in three MLB seasons leading up to 2021, many had written him off as organizational depth in the minor leagues.
But Haase, 28, was in Seattle for Tuesday’s 5-0 win over the Mariners in the second of three games at T-Mobile Park. He served as the starting catcher, after manning left field and crushing two home runs in Monday’s 4-1 victory, for right-hander Spencer Turnbull. The Tigers (16-26) have won seven of their past 10 games.
Turnbull pitched his first career no-hitter — and the eighth no-hitter in franchise history — with Haase as his batterymate. It was Haase’s 31st contest across a four-season span.
“I just love this team,” said Haase, a 2011 graduate of Dearborn Divine Child. “I can’t even put into words the energy, just the shift, from when I was up here on the taxi squad. We feel like a winning baseball team right now. … I want to keep this energy going as long as we can.”
Haase has caught three no-hitters in his lifetime. While with Cleveland’s organization, he helped execute no-hitters at Triple-A Columbus by Shane Bieber (May 25, 2018) and Adam Plutko (June 2, 2018).
Bieber’s no-hitter lasted just seven innings because of a rainout. He struck out seven batters and threw 61 of 80 pitches for strikes. Nine days later, Plutko’s no-hitter went the distance; he threw 80 of his 112 pitches for strikes and punched out eight batters. Columbus became the first International League team to throw two no-hitters in a season since Indianapolis in 2012.
“To do it at the highest level, I’m just so happy for Spencer,” Haase said. “He looked so good tonight, and he deserves it.”
Turnbull threw 24 first-pitch strikes to his 29 batters faced. He picked up 19 swings and misses, 12 with his four-seam fastball. He struck out nine batters and induced weak contact by generating 11 ground-ball outs. He fired 77 of 117 pitches for strikes.
The pitch mix: 50 four-seam fastballs, 37 sliders, 17 sinkers, seven changeups and six curveballs.
“We pretty much chat in between every inning,” Haase said. “What feels good, what feels bad, try not to force certain pitches, even if it might be the right pitch, but if it doesn’t feel comfortable in his hand, we don’t need to force it. … Whatever I was putting down, he was throwing, he was executing. It made my job really easy.”
Haase and Turnbull disposed of nine batters in a row before Jarred Kelenic’s walk to open the fourth inning.
After Kelenic’s walk, the next 15 batters to enter the batter’s box returned to the dugout.
“From pitch No. 1 he was executing the game plan,” Haase said. “He looked so sharp tonight. Everything was working for him. He was getting to the top of the zone. He was sinking it when he had to. Just like last start, his spin the second and third time through the order really shined. He just kept making better pitches.”
Turnbull used five sliders through the first three innings. He finished with 37 sliders, producing six of his 19 swings and misses and nine of his 18 called strikes.
This strategy was by design.
“Anytime we can hide those weapons for the second and third time through the order, I mean, you just see how it plays out right there,” Haase said. “They were off-balance all night, and Spencer looked fantastic.”
Turnbull walked ninth-inning leadoff hitter Jose Marmolejos. He got ahead 0-2 in the count and made Marmolejos foul away three of the first four pitches. Four of the next five pitches went for balls, adding to the pressure.
“He kept battling and really forced Spencer to make some good pitches,” Haase said. “When it went 3-2, it was just take a shot on the slider, which was his best pitch at that point. He ended up losing him, which was completely fine. We were on the exact same page and still had the no-hitter intact.”
Just like in the fourth inning, Turnbull retired the next three batters. Sam Haggerty struck out swinging on a 94 mph fastball. Kelenic grounded into a force out, from second baseman Jonathan Schoop to shortstop Harold Castro.
Haniger — who forced third baseman Jeimer Candelario to make an elite play on a one-hopper (with a 108.4 mph exit velocity and a .660 expected batting average) in the seventh inning — struck out on three pitches. The final pitch, a 95 mph fastball, was foul tipped into Haase’s glove. That’s when Haase, still classified as a rookie, stormed to the mound to embrace Turnbull with a leaping hug.
“That was a great play by Candy,” Haase said about the seventh-inning gem. “It was an awesome play, but you still felt so many outs away from a no-hitter. Just to keep it rolling, keep that momentum, was awesome. After that play, I don’t know if they hit anything hard. Spencer really got into a groove, and he was just hammering the zone.”
“He and Haase had a really good connection,” Hinch said. “They started talking about pitches, and it was a pretty normal night. The tension started to build a little bit as the night got a little longer, and I’m really proud of (Turnbull). He’s worked really hard and deserves every bit of tonight.”
The night before
Haase is making a name for himself with the Tigers. Along with catching a no-hitter, he is 6-for-20 (.300) with two doubles, two home runs and two RBIs. He has seven strikeouts without a walk.
“Obviously, a big night for Eric,” Hinch said after Haase’s two-homer performance in Monday’s win. “A couple of homers to big man territory in this ballpark. I’ve managed a lot of games here as a visitor, and to test both gaps like that, you’ve got to be a grown man and have a lot of power to go to both areas.”
Haase’s first home run in the 2021 season — and second in the majors — came on a 1-0 cutter from left-hander Yusei Kikuchi in the second inning. He belted the ball 429 feet, with a 108.9 mph exit velocity, to right-center field.
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His second home run traveled 429 feet, as well, with a 108.3 mph exit velocity, to left-center field. He tagged a 1-2 slider from righty reliever Brady Lail in the ninth inning to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead.
“Anytime I get to put this uniform on, I don’t take it for granted,” Haase said. “I feel extremely blessed to be even a part of this team. Just going to keep riding it out as long as it lasts.”
Haase has played key roles in the last two wins for the Tigers. He has a .174 batting average in his 31-game career: Nine games for Cleveland in 2018, 10 games for Cleveland in 2019, seven games for the Tigers in 2020 and five more this season.
His journey hasn’t been simple.
After getting rejected from the majors for three years in a row, the Michigan native is eager for more opportunities to shine in his fourth big-league campaign.
“The energy in this team right now is fantastic,” Haase said. “Whatever we can do to keep this moving forward, it’s going to be awesome. I’m ready for that ride.”
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.