Bullpen can’t save Spencer Turnbull in Detroit Tigers’ 6-3 loss to Red Sox in home opener

Detroit Free Press

Spencer Turnbull dodged danger at least once.

The Detroit Tigers‘ starting pitcher turned his body and tilted his head, in a Matrix-esque movement, to avoid an incoming line drive from Enrique Hernandez. He got out of the way and avoided the comebacker before squatting in the infield grass near the mound, clearly bothered by pain in his neck.

“I got a neck stinger,” Turnbull said. “Once it subsided, I was all right.”

But that’s when everything went downhill. The Tigers surrendered four runs in the sixth inning and lost, 6-3, to the Boston Red Sox on Thursday in front of an announced 44,650-person crowd in the home opener at Comerica Park.

Detroit has a 2-5 record this season.

“I appreciate the fans coming out,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “We love the environment. The excitement when we take the lead, the hat tip to Miggy, the Hall of Famers throwing out the first pitch. There’s only one first day every year, and Detroit does it right.”

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Turnbull talked to an athletic trainer, tossed a few warmup pitches and stayed in the game, only for the Red Sox to collect a single, double and walk against him. The double, from Rafael Devers, tied the game at three runs apiece.

Those results forced Turnbull’s exit with two outs in the sixth.

“I love the fans here,” Turnbull said. “I felt very much supported. That’s an awesome feeling. Hopefully soon, I’ll be able to go back to the performances that I know I’m capable of and help the team get some wins.”

Right-handed reliever José Cisnero, a high-leverage reliever, inherited two runners and gave up a three-run home run. A red-hot Adam Duvall hammered a two-strike fastball on the outside part of the zone and sent the ball over the left-center fence.

His homer put the Red Sox ahead, 6-3.

“On that pitch, I tried to throw to the outside,” said Cisnero, who added the cold weather made it difficult for him to throw his secondary pitches. “That was the perfect pitch, a fastball outside, and he got it. My hands were freezing, so I had to throw a fastball. I threw a fastball, and that happened.”

Catcher Jake Rogers said the Tigers wanted an up-and-away fastball.

Cisnero put the ball middle-and-away.

“It wasn’t quite up,” Rogers said. “But it was a good pitch.”

Turnbull struggled throughout his second start of the season after missing the entire 2022 campaign recovering from Tommy John surgery. The 30-year-old allowed five runs on five hits and two walks with one strikeout in 5⅔ innings.

He recorded one swinging strike on 72 pitches, and his fastball — averaging 92 mph — was about 2 mph slower than normal.

“My stuff is definitely down a little bit,” Turnbull said. “That’s a little frustrating, but I know how to get there.”

Cisnero couldn’t clean up the mess.

The bullpen, nowhere near as strong as it was last season, is arguably the Tigers’ weakest link this season. Cisnero and righty Alex Lange, despite their strike-throwing inconsistencies, are viewed as the top relievers. Old friends Andrew Chafin, Joe Jiménez, Michael Fulmer and Gregory Soto are wearing different uniforms.

In Monday’s 7-6 win over the Houston Astros, Cisnero took over for left-hander Matthew Boyd and inherited one runner in the fifth inning. He hit the first batter he faced and conceded a game-tying three-run homer to Yordan Alvarez.

Cisnero returned for the seventh inning Thursday and retired three batters in a row.

A smashing second

The Tigers stranded runners in the first inning.

Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale threw eight balls in a row to walk Matt Vierling and Javier Báez. He struck out the next three batters — Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Eric Haase — on 14 pitches.

A rare walk from Jonathan Schoop gave the Tigers a fresh opportunity with one out in the second inning. Rogers took care of the rest and put the Tigers ahead 2-0 with a 414-foot home run to left field.

It was Rogers’ second homer in four games this season.

“I hit that ball really hard,” Rogers said. “It’s always good to feel that off the bat.”

Three straight singles with two outs in the third inning increased the Tigers’ lead to 3-1, with Miguel Cabrera — in his final home opener — driving in Torkelson. He hit a two-strike fastball from Sale into center field.

Schoop, though, killed the opportunity for additional runs by popping out in foul territory. Another scoring chance was squandered in the eighth inning when Rogers flied out to right field, stranding two runners.

The Tigers finished 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Sale allowed three runs on four hits with three walks and seven strikeouts in five innings. He recorded 10 whiffs and limited hard contact.

“We had our opportunities,” Hinch said. “We didn’t get to Sale right away, and he settled in a little bit after Jake’s homer.”

Cabrera went 1-for-3 with one walk.

Báez, hitting .080 in seven games, finished 0-for-4 with one walk (his second of the season) and one strikeout (his sixth of the season). Torkelson picked a couple of balls in the dirt at first base to save his shortstop from throwing errors.

Searching for a slider

The Red Sox scored their first run in the third inning, which started with a walk and a single, and tacked on another run in the fourth when Devers drilled Turnbull’s fastball for a solo home run.

Those runs cut the Tigers’ advantage to 3-2.

Turnbull threw 41 of 72 pitches for strikes and primarily relied on his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, using them 46 times. The right-hander also mixed in 12 changeups, eight curveballs and six sliders.

His slider, considered his best secondary pitch, seemed non-existent.

“The game dictated I didn’t need it as much,” Turnbull said. “I felt like it was better in warmups today than last week. I probably could have used it more, honestly, but I didn’t really need it. … I still threw some good ones, threw a couple bad ones.”

The Tigers turned to right-hander Mason Englert, their Rule 5 draft pick, in the eighth and ninth innings. The 23-year-old recorded the first strikeout of his career with a swing-and-miss changeup against Devers in the eighth. He was chased with one out in the ninth after putting two runners in scoring position.

Lange relieved him and walked a batter in the ninth.

He escaped without damage.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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