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Rays 12, Tigers 2: Spencer Turnbull’s return went quite poorly

The right-hander’s return from Tommy John surgery showed a distinct lack of command and aggression on the mound.

Detroit Tigers v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

A pretty miserable outing for Spencer Turnbull led to a thorough collapse in the third inning that put this one out of reach early. The offense and the bullpen were lousy, and the Tigers didn’t put up much of a fight, falling to 0-2 on the young season.

Turnbull was making his first start since June 4, 2021. The Rays greeted him rudely, but for the right-hander his main competition was himself. It’s natural to struggle with command early in a return from Tommy John surgery, but Turnbull’s location was a hot mess through most of his brief outing. It cost the Tigers dearly.

After the Tigers went 1-2-3 in the top of the first against Zach Eflin, Yandy Diaz led off the bottom half with a sharp ground ball single that Nick Maton knocked down at third to save a double. Diaz advanced to second on a wild pitch from Turnbull and Brandon Lowe singled. Randy Arozarena got a poorly located two-strike fastball up and away, allowing him to extend his arms, and he blasted it the opposite way for an RBI double. Diaz scored but Lowe had to hold at third. Turnbull then nibbled around the edges to Wander Franco, issuing a walk.

However, Turnbull bounced back this time, blowing away Luke Raley with a 96 mph fastball. Jose Siri grounded to Báez, who started the 6-4-3 double play, and the Tigers were out of the inning with only a run allowed. That little bit of aggression under pressure was the only good glimpse of the Turnbull we know and love.

Eflin quickly punched out Kerry Carpenter and Austin Meadows in the top of the second. Spencer Torkelson drilled a single into left center field, and Miguel Cabrera followed with a hot grounder that played Taylor Walls and Cabrera was on with a single. Unfortunately, after working himself into a good hitters’ count, new Tigers Zach McKinstry struck out swinging to end the threat. Eflin had four strikeouts through two innings, which is not ideal.

Turnbull settled in better in the second inning. He got Taylor Walls to ground out, and after a Josh Lowe pop-up dropped between four Tigers fielders in shallow center, Turnbull struck out Francisco Mejia, walked Yandy Diaz, and then got a routine grounder from Brandon Lowe to end the inning.

This felt particularly Togerish.

A Nick Maton walk with one out gave the Tigers a little opportunity in the top of the third. However, Riley Greene lined out to shortstop and Javier Báez flew out to the wall in left.

With the offense scuffling, the pressure was back on Turnbull to open the bottom of the third, and he just wasn’t up to it. He and Haase were giving the Rays too much credit, nibbling around the edges, falling behind in counts, and going to the changeup too often before they’d even established the fastball. He paid dearly for it.

Turnbull grazed Arozarena to put the leadoff hitter on. Wander Franco drilled a changeup for a double. Raley struck out, but Jose Siri ripped a double into left to score both baserunners. It was 3-0 Rays, but things would get worse. After a visit from Chris Fetter to chill him out, Turnbull walked Taylor Walls. Haase tried a backpick and threw it away, and Josh Lowe followed with another double, scoring Siri and Walls both. Francisco Mejia singled back up the middle, and that was the end of Turnbull’s return to action. It was pretty ugly.

Turnbull’s fastball and slider were both very effective when he located them, but overall he failed to challenge hitters with his fastballs, and he and Haase seemed to get way too cute throwing a bunch of changeups and nibbling around the edges far too much. He fell behind over and over again, and finally forced to just throw strikes, was consistently hit hard, with the Rays producing five doubles against him. In some ways it was typical of a return to action after TJ, but it was also pretty darn ugly to watch. And things would get uglier.

Reliever Trey Wingenter came on and immediately wild pitched Mejia to second. Wingenter fell behind against Yandy Diaz, who then sprayed a double to right that scored Mejia. Just a parade of doubles from the Rays and a lot of scared game calling on the Tigers’ side. Not impressive.

Turnbull: 2.1 IP, 7 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 3 SO

Wingenter just didn’t have it, giving up a walk and hitting Luke Raley. The white flag was waived when the Rays were up 8-0, as A.J. Hinch called for Tyler Alexander who, having some idea where his pitches might go, quickly retired Siri to mercifully end the inning.

The Tigers got a run back in the fourth, as Kerry Carpenter led off with a double to right field. Austin Meadows flew out to right, with Carpenter advancing to third. Torkelson bounced one back to the pitcher, but Miguel Cabrera fought off an inside pitch and dumped an RBI single into right field. 8-1 Rays.

The Rays weren’t close to done, however. Tyler Alexander delighted us briefly by doing pitcher-ish things like commanding his stuff, but crumbled as well, allowing a single and then falling behind against Diaz. He got back in the count, but a 2-2 cutter floated out over the plate and Diaz smoked it into the seats in left on a line. 10-1 Rays.

Eric Haase and Maton grounded out in the fifth, and Riley Greene saw nothing but soft stuff, fouling off a curve and a cutter, and then swinging over a changeup for the third out. Meh.

Tyler Alexander was dealing, however. It was nice to see a display of command, and the lefty had his cutter and changeup really dialed in. The Rays were pretty comfortable at this point, holding a huge lead, but Alexander racked up seven strikeouts in his 3 13 innings of work. Still, the Diaz home run blew up his line as well.

Alexander: 3.1 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 7 SO

The Tigers did get a run back in the top of the sixth. With Eflin’s day done, Kevin Kelly took over in the top of the sixth. Carpenter led off by ripping his second double of the game. Austin Meadows lined a single to center and Carpenter read it well, burning around third to score just ahead of the throw. Miguel Cabrera pulled a grounder right to Franco at shortstop, who started the 6-4-3 to snuff any hopes of a rally. 10-2 Rays.

Garrett Hill came on in the bottom of the seventh, and he didn’t have the answer either. He walked Mejia, the leadoff hitter, struck out Diaz and Paredes swinging with a fourseamer and a slider respectively, but then he walked Arozarena. Bad idea with Wander Franco coming to the dish, in particular. Franco doubled off the top of the wall in right, just over a leaping Carpenter, and it was 12-2 Rays. Hill struck out Raley to end another very bad inning for Tigers’ pitching.

Lefty Garrett Cleavinger took over for the Rays in the top of the eighth. He had an easy inning, carving up Riley Greene and Carpenter, while Ryan Kreidler lifted a routine fly ball to right. MEH.

The Tigers moved Haase to left field, with Jake Rogers taking over behind the plate in the bottom of the eighth. Jose Cisnero came on for his season debut and quickly got Siri to ground out, then froze Taylor Walls with a good fastball for strike three. Josh Lowe got ahead in the count and eventually walked him. That was the seventh walk of the day issued by Tigers’ pitching, to go with a two hit batters. The strike zone was controlled entirely by the Rays, all game long. However, Mejia popped out to end the inning.

Colin Faucher took over in the ninth for the Rays and easily punched out Jake Rogers and Torkelson. Miguel Cabrera drew a walk, and left it up to McKinstry, who lined a single to right field for his first major league hit. Eric Haase grounded into a force at third base, and that was all she wrote.

All in all this was a pretty miserable effort. Most of this one was on Turnbull, but overall the bullpen was really bad as well. The Tigers struck out 12 Rays, but they walked seven and gave up eight extra base hits. The offense didn’t do much either, as the only bright spots for the Tigers were Kerry Carpenter and Austin Meadows, who are swinging it well to open the season.

LHP Joey Wentz will take on the Rays LHP Jeffrey Springs at 1:10 p.m. ET looking to avoid the series sweep.