‘A different joy’: After 21 months away, Tigers’ Turnbull back on the bump

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. – Yep, Spencer Turnbull is back. We know this because, even after not pitching in real competition for 21 months, he was nitpicking the heck out of his solid, two-inning spring debut against the Blue Jays on Saturday.

“Yeah, he was mad at the end because of some of the pitches he made, which is all I really needed to know coming out of his first day,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said.

Once a perfectionist, always a perfectionist.

“(Pitching coach Chris) Fetter was like, ‘If you have anything but the best feeling about this, I’m going to be really mad,’” Turnbull said. “And I was like, ‘But I gave up a run!’”

He knew Fetter was right, of course. And the more he thought about the significance of the moment, the more emotional he became.

“Definitely a lot of adrenaline,” he said. “I mean, I felt within myself; felt in control. But it was definitely cool to have everybody here and just feel that spirit. I felt the Lord’s presence with me. I felt that electricity. It was like a different joy.”

Turnbull’s return was about the only saving grace in the Tigers’ 18-5 spring loss at Joker Marchant Stadium. After missing half the 2021 season and all of 2022 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Turnbull breezed through the first inning, punching out Kevin Kiermaier and Danny Jansen to start the game.

“That first inning I felt invincible,” he said. “That second inning, I was knocking some rust off. But we’re getting there.”

BOX SCORE: Blue Jays 18, Tigers 5

He ended up allowing a run and two hits, throwing 25 pitches and 19 strikes. His four-seam fastball sat at 94 mph and hit 96. His sinker sat at 95 mph. He threw two change-ups and no curveballs. But it was slider that he was kicking himself over afterward.

Specifically, three hanging sliders he threw in the second inning. One of them, on a 1-2 count to left-handed hitting Nathan Lukes, was hit into the right-center gap and set up the lone run he allowed.

“I threw one really good one in the first inning (to strike out Kiermaier),” he said. “It was really sharp. Exactly what I want. Then in the second, working out of the stretch, it got kind of loopy. Didn’t have the sharp bite. I mean, I was missing by a whole foot.

More:Tigers skipper Hinch clears the air on how pitch calls will be made − collaboratively

“It was supposed to be in the dirt and it ended up in his left-handed sweet spot (down and in).”

Turnbull said had it been later in the spring, or a regular season game, he’d likely have dropped his curveball in that situation. But the curveball has been clean and efficient in his bullpens. The slider, not so much.

“I could have thrown my curveball on any of those and it would’ve been a better pitch,” he said. “But normally the slider has that late depth and I would usually get a swing and miss there. But that pitch was not well-executed. I’m trying to get it back to that.

“But I did throw a couple of good ones, so I feel like it’s getting there. It’s just a matter of getting that consistency and executing.”

Hinch said there will be time to dissect the outing and even more time to make corrections. For now, just seeing No. 56 back on the mound was a win.

“All in all, it sure was nice to see him out there competing and being a good pitcher again,” Hinch said. “We always look at the metrics and see the pitch shapes and what he’s doing. But I wouldn’t say we’re obsessing over it with someone like Spencer.

“The most important thing coming out of this one isn’t his stuff. It’s his health.”

It was also the first time Turnbull worked in real competition with a pitch clock.

“I felt rushed a couple of times, a little bit,” he said. “It wasn’t too bad. I slowed myself down on purpose and let the clock run down a little bit just to get a feel for it. For the most part I felt comfortable with the clock. It’s definitely a different pace but I don’t mind going fast.”

He has studied how Max Scherzer has been able to use the pitch clock as a weapon to disrupt a hitter’s timing; sometimes pitching quick, sometimes running the clock down. Teammate Michael Lorenzen was able to do that a little bit Friday night in Tampa, holding the ball, freezing a runner, starting his delivery inside three seconds.

“I want to get to that point,” Turnbull said. “This was my first time getting a feel for it. Next time it’ll be like, how can I use it to mess up timing and stuff.”

As he was talking to reporters, the Blue Jays were putting up 13 runs in the fourth inning. He kept smiling and shaking his head. It all still hadn’t sunk in.

“I’m really, really blessed and thankful,” he said. “I will probably get teared up later.”

Trevor Rosenthal returns

The Tigers Saturday night announced they’ve signed veteran reliever Trevor Rosenthal to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league camp.

Rosenthal, who will be 33 on May 29, hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2020. His only competitive pitching since then was a three-game, two-inning stint at Triple-A Nashville last season.

Once one of the game’s hardest-throwing closers, Rosenthal has struggled to regain his form after missing 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. His season last year was derailed by a hamstring injury. He pitched in 10 games for the Tigers in 2019, walking 11 and throwing four wild pitches in 10 innings. He also struck out 12.

Game bits

It was a rough day for right-handers Will Vest and Beau Brieske. Vest faced six batters in that fourth inning and they all reached and scored. Brieske was scheduled to work three innings, but he was removed after throwing 35 pitches in the sixth. He was charged with four runs. “In Brieske’s inning, he could’ve been finished in 14 pitches if we played defense behind him. It was not all on him,” Hinch said. Of the 22 pitches Vest threw, 12 were balls.

… The Tigers did hit two more home runs. Zack Short hit his second in two days. Miguel Cabrera, who waited through that long fourth inning, smacked his first. He drilled an 81-mph cutter onto the berm in left field. Cabrera, who will not play in either of the next two games in Fort Myers, will be leaving to join Team Venezuela for the WBC.

… The Tigers have now hit 20 home runs this spring, most in baseball, either in Florida or Arizona.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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