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Tigers vs. Pirates Preview: Spencer Turnbull still looking for win number one

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The Tigers starter will try to add to his impressive strikeout numbers.

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Spencer Turnbull did not win the final spot in the Tigers’ rotation until the final week of spring training, but he has looked worthy of the opportunity so far. The rookie has drawn some national attention with electric strikeout numbers to start the season, including his 10-strikeout performance during Detroit’s home opener. With 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings, Turnbull ranks in the top 15 among all qualified starters this season.

The next challenge will be getting a little deeper into the game. Turnbull has thrown exactly 91 pitches in all three starts this year and is averaging five innings per outing. His 4.80 ERA sounds worse than his performances have been, but there is definitely room for improvement in terms of actually getting the results to put his team in position to win. Given his great strikeout numbers, he will have the chance to do just that against the Pirates.

A 7-3 start to the year has been mostly wiped away, as the Tigers sit at .500 after dropping five of the past six games. The offense continues to struggle, and just about everyone is to blame. There is no mystery behind the funk: the Tigers’ bats rank in the bottom five in batting average, home runs, and strikeout rate. The task does not get any easier on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh Pirates (9-6) at Detroit Tigers (8-8)

Time/Place: 6:40 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Bucs Dugout
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Trevor Williams (1-0, 2.45 ERA) vs. RHP Spencer Turnbull (0-2, 4.80 ERA)

Game 17 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Williams 18.1 16.4 5.5 4.07 0.4
Turnbull 15.0 28.4 7.5 3.54 0.3

Trevor Williams enters his third full season with two similar-looking seasons under his belt. Both his 2017 and 2018 campaigns featured below-average strikeout and walk rates, but a low hard contact rate and a low home run volume. Williams does not blow anyone away, but he has been worth a respectable 5.1 fWAR over the past two seasons.

2019 has been kind to Williams, and he brings a 2.45 ERA over three starts into Detroit. Though his strikeouts are down from over 18 percent to 16.4 percent, his walks have dropped from 8 percent to 5.5 percent, and a .206 average against has contributed to his early-season success. His hard-hit rate again is low (23.2 percent) and has helped him notch at least six innings in every start despite the low strikeout numbers.

The Tigers have been generally weak at the plate, but there is a chance that Williams is slightly over-performing this year. His fly ball and home run rates are both on the rise from past seasons and his FIP suggests a rise in his ERA may be coming. Williams has not always hit the strike zone consistently, so a little patience could go a long way for a Detroit offense that could use any help it can get.

Key matchup: Tigers hitters vs. doing anything

Thanks to the fierce rivalry between the Tigers and Pirates, this will be the third straight year that Williams has faced Detroit. The first two matchups have been quite good for the righty, who has surrendered one total hit and zero earned runs in 13 combined innings against the Tigers. Given the way the offense is currently hitting, the odds are not great for the home team.

Prediction

Turnbull looks good despite a modest number of strikeouts, but the offense stays silent again.