For the first time in Spencer Turnbull’s career, he stayed locked in from start to finish in his outing last Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners. As a result, he pitched the eighth no-hitter in Detroit Tigers‘ history, and the first since Justin Verlander’s in 2011.
Turnbull, 28, remembers when the fear of failure set in after the fifth inning. He knew what was happening, and he wanted to be perfect the rest of the way. Figuring out his mindset has been the biggest challenge throughout his four-year MLB career.
This time, Turnbull didn’t give in. He pitched the fifth of six no-hitters in the 2021 season, firing 77 of his 117 pitches for strikes. He threw 24 first-pitch strikes to his 29 batters faced. He walked two and struck out nine.
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He received a ton of text messages, so many that he hasn’t responded to them all. He couldn’t sleep for a couple of days. A deep internal feeling of accomplishment became his only emotion. It was a crucial moment in Turnbull’s career, showing he can be an elite starting pitcher.
“Now it goes away and then comes back in a wave and hits you, like, ‘Ah, I can’t believe I did that. That’s crazy,’ ” Turnbull said Sunday. “That rush will come back, but it was probably there for more than 24 hours, probably closer to two days. Kind of feeling like you’re still in a dream, but then realizing you’ve got to go back to business.
“I’ve still got to pitch against Cleveland on Monday. This isn’t the end of my career, it’s just one awesome moment. Just remembering that. But I’ll still get another couple text messages or whatever, and I’ll just be like, ‘Man, it’s crazy.’ ”
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Turnbull is correct.
The no-hitter was a historic moment, but he has more work to do. Continuing his strong 2021 campaign — and putting the no-hitter behind him — begins Monday against Cleveland at Comerica Park. He squares off against left-hander Sam Hentges, a 24-year-old making the seventh appearance of his MLB career. Cleveland has some experience with no-hitters this season, ending up on the wrong end of Carlos Rodon’s gem in April and Wade Miley’s earlier this month.
“He’s gotten more text messages in the last couple of days than he probably has in the last couple of years,” Hinch said. “It’s a heavy and taxing after-effect, just given the accomplishment that it was. He can handle it, but the faster that we can get to the next game and get him up and running the better, so we can get back into his normal routine.”
Through six starts, Turnbull has a 2.88 ERA, eight walks and 31 strikeouts. He has pitched 34⅓ innings.
The Tigers had a day off Thursday after taking a flight from Seattle to Kansas City, so Turnbull picked up extra rest. His pitch count, however, will be monitored as always. Hinch needs his 6-foot-3 right-hander to throw efficiently and effectively.
Turnbull’s top priority is to give the Tigers a chance to win. It’s not about extending his scoreless innings streak — 10⅔ innings — which dates to his May 13 start against the Kansas City Royals.
“The no-hitter in Seattle doesn’t really help him face the Indians,” Hinch said. “I don’t think the Indians care too much about that fact that he no-hit the Mariners. You remind these guys that the game plan can be very different. The focus has to be the same, but I don’t really drag the no-hitter into the next series.”
Turnbull is on the same page with his skipper.
After the no-hitter, they spoke about being prepared to attack in his next start and less about handling the reality of being one of the most talked-about players in baseball during the week.
Turnbull’s outing against the Mariners marked the first complete game in his big-league career, and he feels more confident in the execution of his pitches. This should help him stay fearless and pitch deeper into games.
That’s the bar he is setting for himself moving forward.
“Definitely have to get a lot more strike ones and keep the pitch count down,” Turnbull said. “Saying aggressive and not being afraid of contact. I don’t know I’ve pitched to contact necessarily, but I’m definitely not afraid of it. If I’m getting 0-1, 0-2, 1-2 to most hitters, I’m going to put myself in a much better chance for success consistently. The numbers just play out, and I definitely believe that now.
“Just being aggressive, getting ahead, trusting yourself. All the same things people have said for a while, but I’ve kind of taken a while to get there.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.