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Tigers’ Spencer Turnbull was solid in his 2019 season debut

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Turnbull got roughed up in fourth inning, but otherwise had an encouraging opening performance.

Spencer Turnbull delivers the pitch
Adam Dubbin / Bless You Boys

Despite taking the 3-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on the road on Saturday, there is a lot to be optimistic about Spencer Turnbull’s 2019 debut performance. His four-seamer and power-sinker were operating with a lot of movement in the low-to-mid 90s. He offset those with his hard slider in the high-80s, and took his emerging 12-6 curveball a velocity notch lower, offering a fourth big punch. The Red Bull handled major league opposition very well for four of his first five innings — he just happened to get touched up a bit in the dreaded fourth, just like Matthew Boyd the day before.

Turnbull began the game with two straight impressive strikeouts — the first on a count that went full, with all of the strikes located in the zone on mid-90s sinker-fastballs. The second strikeout was induced on a sick, Verlander-esque 12-6 curveball that managed to both catch the zone and baffle the batter. Get a quick glimpse of those strikeouts below. The first is an overlay of the three fastballs that went for strikes against the leadoff batter.

Edited by Adam Dubbin / Property of MLB.tv

The next is just the lone third-strike breaking ball, snuggly located on the low-inside corner. I cannot confirm whether or not Jim Price minted it with the “yellow hammer” designation, but it is certainly deserving.

Edited by Adam Dubbin / Property of MLB.tv

The second inning was mostly unremarkable, with Spencer retiring the side in order on couple of ground outs and a lineout. The following clip is from his high fastball strikeout of Richard Ureña after battling to a full count to close out the third inning again in one-two-three fashion.

Edited by Adam Dubbin / Property of MLB.tv

After that rough fourth inning, Turnbull would lead off the fifth inning with another swinging strike out on a filthy 87 mph slider in on the opposite-hander down near the dirt.

Edited by Adam Dubbin / Property of MLB.tv

Turnbull brought the breaking ball pain once more to end the side and his outing with another 87 mph fall-off-the-table slider that the batter could do nothing but flail at.

Edited by Adam Dubbin / Property of MLB.tv

Now take a look at Turnbull’s three biggest mistakes today — an opposite-field double to lead off the fourth inning by Brandon Drury, a full-count line-drive single up the middle by Billy McKinney, and the home run by Justin Smoak three batters later, also to the opposite field. Up until Drury’s hit, Turnbull had retired the first nine batters he faced in a row. Unfortunately, things got rough in a hurry for him in the fourth frame.

The lead-off double is shown below.

Edited by Adam Dubbin / Property of MLB.tv

Turnbull leaves the 94 mph fastball high and in the middle of the plate here, which he quickly paid for as the next batter would drive Drury home on a single after running the count full; that hitter was erased on a baserunning error, however, leaving Turnbull with empty bases.

Edited by Adam Dubbin / Property of MLB.tv

Again, Turnbull leaves his 93 mph fastball way up in the zone for the batter to feast on, driving in the first of three runs on him in the inning. Though it may look like Greiner is setting up low on these pitches, he consistently kept his glove close to the dirt while Spencer was on the mound.

After giving up a full-count walk to the following batter, Turnbull threw a curveball in a pitcher’s count that was not necessarily a poor decision, but the breaking pitch wandered too far back towards the middle of the plate while remaining above the knees, resulting in a laser line-drive off of the bat of Justin Smoak into the left field bullpen.

Edited by Adam Dubbin / Property of MLB.tv

Save for some questionable strike zone calls by the umpire and some command issues, Turnbull’s 2019 season debut started out as well as anyone could have expected. His four-seamer and sinker played well with his slider and curveball — there was no indication that he threw any true off-speed pitch, at least according to Jack Morris. But that four-pitch array by itself served him pretty well in his season opener.

Overall, Turnbull appears to have an arsenal that might play best in an “opener” role for the Tigers if the coaching staff is willing to be innovative. He struggled at times early on locating his pitches and both of his fastballs began to lose their liveliness closing in on the 80-pitch mark. Plus, he got hit hard in his second time through the top of the Blue Jays’ order. Of course, the season is just beginning and the pitchers are still getting stretched out, and so extrapolations from recent results should be taken with massive grains of salt.

As a more mature prospect at the age of 26, it is Turnbull’s time to shine. How high his ceiling rises will be a compelling storyline for Tigers fans as the season wears on.