Tough finish to strong start leaves Spencer Turnbull frustrated, ends Tigers’ win streak

Detroit News

Detroit — Spencer Turnbull spent 19 months learning to be patient. It’s not his go-to frame of mind. But recovering from Tommy John surgery is a painstakingly slow and arduous and, frankly, lonely process. Being patient is not only a virtue, it’s mandatory.

Lo and behold, four starts into his return to the Tigers’ rotation and his patience is being tested again — albeit in a very different way.

“It’s definitely a different type of patience,” he said after allowing a three-run home run to Jose Ramirez in the sixth inning Wednesday, the killing blow in the Tigers’ 3-2 loss to the Guardians in the series finale at Comerica Park.

BOX SCORE: Guardians 3, Tigers 2

“Just a lot of frustration because I’m usually such a perfectionist and I have such high expectations of myself,” he continued. “But it’s also having to realize my body can only do what it can do. It’s getting better. I’ve seen it improving. My slider is better. My velocity is better. My stuff is carrying later in the game.

“But it’s still frustrating because it doesn’t come out as easy as it used to. I am happy with it. I’m proud of it. But also frustrated because for the second time I gave up three runs in the sixth inning and cost us a game.”

Turnbull was as strong as he’s been post-surgery for the first five innings. He was beating the Guardians’ hitters with a lively four-seam fastball that ranged in velocity from 91 to 96 mph. He ended up throwing 45 of them, 55% of his 82 pitches.

“That’s definitely the best it’s been,” he said.

Through five innings he’d allowed just one hit, a ground-ball single. But with two outs in the fifth, as he was getting up on 60 pitches, he could feel himself leaking oil a bit. His mechanics got less smooth, he was flying open on his delivery and losing velocity and command.

“Yeah, I knew it,” he said of feeling the fatigue. “But I’m going to compete.”

He walked Gabriel Arias on four pitches and then hit Mike Zunino on the next pitch. He managed to get out of the inning, dispatching Myles Straw. But the walk and hit batsman rolled the Guardians lineup over.

“The Ramirez at-bat started with the previous inning,” manager AJ Hinch said. “They got to start the next inning with the top of their order. And then he walked (Steven) Kwan to start the sixth, setting the table for one of the premier hitters in the league.”

Andres Gimenez followed the Kwan walk with a single and Turnbull fell behind 2-0 to Ramirez.

“I’m not going to pitch around him,” Turnbull said. “I’m going to challenge him.”

Ramirez, who came into the game with a .311/.389/.591 career slash-line and a .980 OPS against the Tigers, had been eerily quiet in this series. Before the sixth, he had just one hit and had struck out six of his last seven plate appearances. On the last one, home plate umpire Todd Tichenor nailed him with a pitch-timer violation on a 1-2 count.

He was due. And he did not miss Turnbull’s 2-0, 92-mph, fastball. He clobbered it into the right-field seats. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 105 mph and it ended the Guardians’ 19-inning scoreless streak.

“Not my best pitch,” Turnbull said. “It’s frustrating. But I’m not as mad at that pitch as I am at the 10 pitches before that. Just misfired a bunch and got into some bad counts and he beat us.”

Former manager Ron Gardenhire used to call Turnbull his wild bull. Wild, as in effectively wild. He could be erratic at times, but his stuff is so good, he was often the best option to clean up his own mess. But that quality makes it difficult on a manager to know when it’s time to pull him.

Hinch found himself in that quandary in the fifth inning.

“I don’t know if he was leaking oil as much as he was a ground ball, double play away from getting out of it,” Hinch said, referencing that Turnbull got four ground-ball outs and one double-play ball earlier. “When he’s erratic around the zone, it’s hard on the hitter, it’s hard on the catcher and it’s hard to predict what’s next.

“Part of what he can do is get himself back into counts with a lot of elite pitches. It can be difficult, but when he’s fresh and feeling good and he has his pitch count under control, I always feel like he’s going to find a ground ball or a punch-out.”

Turnbull is inching closer to being that guy again, but it wasn’t Wednesday, in just his fourth start since coming back from the surgery.

“I’m a competitor,” Turnbull said. “I’m not going to back down from the challenge. But it is frustrating because you want to be better. You know deep down that you are better than that. But also you know this is part of the process. This is where I’m at right now.”

The Tigers, who were silenced for six innings by right-handed starter Cal Quantrill, started to chip away at the Guardians’ bullpen.

Spencer Torkelson, who also walked and doubled, blasted a 2-0 fastball (95 mph) from right-handed reliever Trevor Stephan in the seventh to put the Tigers on the board. He sent the ball 417 feet, carrying into the home bullpen in left. It left his bat with an exit velocity of 110 mph.

Then in the eighth, Hinch sent left-handed hitting Zach McKinstry up to hit for Matt Vierling against right-hander James Karinchak. Karinchak gave up the walk-off homer to lefty Kerry Carpenter in Game 1 Tuesday, getting beat with a high fastball.

He tried to beat McKinstry with breaking balls. Didn’t happen. McKinstry launched the third straight curveball he saw over the wall in right field, his first homer of the season.

“I wasn’t sitting on it, I just saw it pop out of his hand,” McKinstry said. “I was ready for anything, but I saw it pop and I put a good swing on it.”

The Tigers put the first two runners on in the bottom of the ninth against All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase but couldn’t push the tying run across.

“I thought we put ourselves in a good position to have a chance,” Hinch said. “That’s a tough bullpen to come back against, but we did. The guys kept fighting and kept playing. I love the way this homestand went (4-1). I love the way we hung in there today and gave ourselves a couple of at-bats where we could’ve either extended the game or had it go our way.”

The loss snaps the Tigers’ five-game winning streak. They will take a 7-10 record on the road to Baltimore and Milwaukee starting on Friday.

cmccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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