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Tigers vs. Phillies Preview: Spencer Turnbull faces another stiff test in loaded Phillies lineup

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Turnbull will start on Tuesday as Tyson Ross moves to the paternity list.

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

If there was a criticism of Spencer Turnbull’s first couple starts of the 2019 season, it was that he had not faced an above-average lineup while racking up 15 strikeouts in his first 11 innings. The Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox, two of Turnbull’s last three opponents, are talented clubs on paper, but have been among baseball’s worst offenses in the early part of the season — and the Pirates haven’t been great either.

Still, teams with Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez and [rambles on forever] won’t stay down for long. Turnbull finding a way to keep those lineups in check is impressive, especially when he is having trouble finding the strike zone.

While one could definitely argue that the Phillies are not the most talented lineup Turnbull has faced this year — Boston should eventually take that crown again — they have been the best of the bunch so far. The Phillies have a 102 wRC+ as a team, which ranks in the middle of the pack across baseball. They have been far better at home, though, with a 114 wRC+ that ranks eighth among all MLB teams. Their 11.4 percent walk rate is baseball’s second best, which could spell trouble for Turnbull if he can’t find his command again this time out.

Can Turnbull hold the Phils in check on Tuesday?

Detroit Tigers (12-14) at Philadelphia Phillies (16-12)

Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park
SB Nation site: The Good Phight
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Spencer Turnbull (1-2, 2.77 ERA) vs. RHP Vince Velasquez (1-0, 1.99 ERA)

Game 29 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Lopez 33.2 21.1 8.2 5.23 0.0
Boyd 37.1 31.8 6.6 2.21 1.6

Like a pair of starters the Tigers faced (and flopped against) to open the season, Vince Velasquez is something of a post-hype sleeper who has always had a world of potential. The now-26-year-old Velasquez made waves with a solid 2016 season, one that saw him post a high strikeout rate and strong peripheral numbers in his age-24 season just after the Houston Astros shipped him to Philadelphia. The last couple seasons have not been as kind, though, with Velasquez posting an ERA near 5 in 218 23 innings.

Look closer, though, and you can see that Velasquez had a decent showing in 2018.

The enigmatic starter has always flashed tantalizing upside and yet he’s never delivered a sub-4.10 ERA. Velasquez made a career-high 30 starts. He averaged under five innings per start. By limiting him to two times through the order, Velasquez was more effective – although the Phillies defense certainly let him down on more than one occasion.

Velasquez saw his strikeout rate jump back north of 25 percent in a career-best 146 23 innings last season, resulting in an identical 3.96 FIP to his 2016 campaign. He stayed healthy, limited home runs, and even discovered more confidence in his slider as the year went on.

That he primarily rides with his fastball and slider makes him a bit vulnerable to left-handed hitting, though. Lefties hit a gaudy .288/.360/.529 against him last season, with 13 of the 16 home runs he allowed on the year. Though they are struggling a bit against him to open the year (.639 OPS), his strikeout and walk numbers are much better against right-handed hitters.

Righties, though? They’re kind of screwed. They put up a paltry .607 OPS against him last season, and have struck out nearly five times as often as walking against Velasquez this season. And with Christin Stewart still on the shelf, the Tigers are running out just two left-handed hitters against the hard-throwing righty on Tuesday.

Not great, Bob.

Key matchup: The Tigers vs. setting up their rotation

The Tigers were originally set to send Tyson Ross to the mound on Tuesday with Turnbull taking the ball on Wednesday. Ross was placed on the paternity list on Tuesday morning, however, pushing Turnbull up a day. Daniel Norris will now start on Wednesday, with the rest of the rotation somewhat in flux behind him. This won’t be an issue for the Tigers, though; they have an off day on Thursday to reset things, and Ross will return by the weekend.

Next week is where things get interesting. The Tigers are currently running a four-man rotation, with Turnbull, Norris, Ross, and Matthew Boyd as the team’s only healthy starters at present. The Tigers don’t need a fifth starter until Saturday, May 11... when they need two (they have a doubleheader with the Twins). Ryan Carpenter was the presumed fifth starter last weekend before Saturday’s postponement, but with Jordan Zimmermann slated to be out for several weeks, the Tigers’ calculus could change. Will we see Beau Burrows for one of the two games on May 11? Will the Tigers ride with Carpenter and another starter on the 40-man roster (possible Matt Hall)? Will they just go full bullpen day? We will have to wait and see.

Prediction

Turnbull guts his way through five innings to earn another win.