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Cleveland at Detroit Preview: Spencer Turnbull returns to the mound with more to prove

Following his first no-hitter, Spencer Turnbull will look to down the Indians and show the league that his success is no fluke.

Detroit Tigers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

How do you follow up your first career no-hitter? That’s a question that the Detroit Tigers haven’t had to answer in nearly 14 years. After Justin Verlander tossed his first no-no on June 12, 2007, he returned to the mound five days later to throw six innings of three-run baseball. Monday night Spencer Turnbull makes his first start following his own historical outing, taking on the Cleveland Indians in the first of a four-game series at Comerica Park.

The finale of Sunday’s game did not go as planned for the Tigers as the Royals walked them off despite not leading the game for a single inning. Still, the Tigers are 6-4 over their last 10 games with the starting pitching carrying the team out of the basement of Major League Baseball as well as the AL Central Division. The Indians currently have a firm grasp on second in the division, trailing the Chicago White Sox by only a game and a half.

Detroit Tigers (18-28) at Cleveland Indians (24-20)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Covering the Corner
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Spencer Turnbull (3-2, 2.88 ERA) vs. LHP Sam Hentges (1-1, 6.46 ERA)

Game 47 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Turnbull 34.1 22 5.7 2.77 1.1
Hentges 15.1 19.7 11.8 7.19 -0.3

First off, I didn’t know that it was allowed for Cleveland to have a pitcher with an ERA north of four in their rotation. Prior to this season, Sam Hentges had never pitched above Double-A, seeing no game action at all in 2020. Hentges will be making only his third start of the season Monday, and didn’t make it through two innings in his last outing against the Angels, allowing six runs.

Needless to say, the offense of the Tigers has a golden opportunity on their hands to put early runs on the board and avoid having to attempt a comeback against the back end of Cleveland’s bullpen, which features two elite arms in James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase. The story of the last two games for the Tigers has been not cashing in on scoring opportunities, stranding an astounding 20 runners on base total. Despite that, the offense has been much better the last month being worth 107 wRC+ as a team for the month of May.

Robbie Grossman, Jeimer Candelario, and — gasp — Harold Castro have been leading the charge for the bats as of late, and Eric Haase has been an extremely pleasant surprise in the few games he’s played. Grossman has been especially impressive, being worth 168 wRC+ in May with a 13.8% walk rate and a 17.2% strikeout rate. Overall, Grossman has been the Tigers' best and most consistent hitter with a line of .259/.383/.430, five home runs, a 15.5 percent walk rate, and 129 wRC+. I was happy when he signed a nice little multi-year with the Tigers, but his methodical and patient approach to hitting has been what the team has needed at the top of the order for years.

I haven’t even mentioned Spencer Turnbull yet in this section, but a man like him should need no introduction after his no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners last week. It’s weird to say that Turnbull got overshadowed after accomplishing a historic baseball feat, but it’s true in this case. While Turnbull was getting busy on the West Coast, most who follow MLB — including myself — were busy scoring internet points for dunking on Tony La Russa for throwing his own player under the bus. Not even 24 hours later, Corey Kluber threw his own no-hitter for the Yankees, and just like that Turnbull was out of news cycle. Whatever. Turnbull had a truly amazing outing, and more importantly, looks like he’s really weaponizing his full arsenal of pitches and showing signs of being a legitimate front line starter in this league

Key Matchup: Spencer Turnbull vs. Expectations

Despite throwing the quietest no-hitter in recent memory, Turnbull’s turn to lead the rotation of the Tigers means he’s going to be facing loftier expectations going forward. Originally a second-round pick in 2014 with a world of “stuff” featured in that right arm, his ascent through the system was stunted by various arm injuries. As a mainstay in the rotation the last two seasons, he’s been mostly good but has shown flashes of flat-out dominance. Last week against the Mariners, those flashes culminated in 9 innings of pure brilliance. Now, we’ve seen who Turnbull can be when he’s got the whole arsenal working. Should we expect more no-hitters and complete game shutouts? Probably not, but this dude can pitch and it’s really starting to look like the sky is the limit for him.