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Tigers at Mariners Preview: Spencer Turnbull hunts a series victory

After a late start to his 2021 campaign, Red Bull is starting to settle in.

Detroit Tigers v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Well, if you were wise and got to bed on time here in the eastern quarter of the country, you missed a gem. Casey Mize spun arguably the best start of his young career, Eric Haase hit two home runs in his left field debut, and Jonathan Schoop cranked one as well, which had to feel good after his struggles to start the season. As a result, the Tigers could wrap a rare series victory on the west coast tonight with Spencer Turnbull on the mound.

So far, Turnbull is doing very Turnbull things, but with a twist. As always, he suppresses home runs beautifully, allowing just one in 25 13 innings of work. The strikeout rate is on the low side, but the twist this season is a much improved walk rate. He isn’t always efficient, but he really makes a team work for their runs against him.

This all sets up pretty well for the Tigers tonight. Against Justin Dunn, a young fifth starter type with control issues, they should have every opportunity to pick up another win on Tuesday night in Seattle. Now holding a one game lead for fourth place in the division over the staggering Minnesota Twins—point and laugh everyone—the Tigers are now just 3.5 back of the Royals for third place after they lost on Monday night.

Detroit Tigers (15-26) at Seattle Mariners (21-21)

Time/Place: 10:10 p.m. ET, T-Mobile Park

SB Nation site: Lookout Landing

Media: Bally Sports Detroit,, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-2, 3.91 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Dunn (1-1, 3.72 ERA)

Game 42 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Turnbull 25.1 3.09 19.6 5.4 0.36 0.7
Dunn 29.0 5.09 18.9 15.7 0.93 0.1

Dunn isn’t an overpowering pitcher, and he does sometimes struggle to locate, leading to high walk rates. He didn’t have this issue in the minors, so my guess is he’s gotten rather gun shy at hard contact. Overall the stuff just isn’t particularly impressive. He’s kept his ERA down this year, but the horrific strikeout-walk ratio says it can’t last.

The 25-year-old right hander features a fourseam fastball averaging 93.6 miles an hour. The heater has some riding life, and Dunn is decidedly a fly ball pitcher who benefits from T-Mobile parks fairly sizable dimensions and typical humidity. He doesn’t miss many bats with the fastball, and it looks like a pitch that should be getting launched regularly considering the mediocre control he’s also displayed. Dunn doesn’t really throw a changeup. Against lefties he’ll mix in his short slider around 84-85 mph, and use his sweeping curveball as the offspeed pitch. Against right handed hitters it’s largely a simple fastball-curveball mix.

Key Matchup: Spencer Turnbull vs. his pitch count

If there’s one thing standing between Turnbull and consideration as something more than a mid-rotation starter, it’s his pitch efficiency and overall consistency. He’s showing signs of starting to win that battle this season, but we need to see a lot more than a start or two here, and a start or two there to really bump him up a tier to frontline starter status. Turnbull’s last two outings have been strong, but the two previous to those, against Boston and New York, were a lot shakier.

The issue is probably always going to be fastball command. Turnbull’s gets a good deal of gyro on his fastball release, and perhaps the very things that gives him strong seam-shifted wake movement with both fastball types also makes them a bit trickier to command with precision. The ongoing joke is still that Turnbull should just throw all his fastballs right down the middle, because they’ll never end up there when they reach the catcher’s glove. Premium fastball command may never be his thing, but if he has his slider dialed in tonight the Mariners are still going to have a tough time. The longer Turnbull can keep the Tigers’ bullpen out of the game, the better their chances of locking this one down for a rare series victory on the west coast.