Pittsburgh – You had to figure a regression to the mean was due. The Tigers produced 28 runs and 32 hits in the first two games of this series. It would be almost gluttonous to expect that trend to continue.
“You can’t expect your offense to score 50 runs in a weekend,” starter Spencer Turnbull said.
But just four hits? Against five different Pirates pitchers? Perhaps the regression went too far.
Especially when manager Derek Shelton decided to pitch to future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cabrera over C.J. Cron, with two outs and the go-ahead run on second base in the eighth inning.
“In big situations, I’d rather have him up there than anybody on our team because most of the time he stays inside the ball and shoots it up the middle,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “And if they hang something he pulls the crap out of it. I love having him up in those situations and he did exactly what I thought he’d do.
“If you pitch to him in that situation, you have a good chance of giving up a hit. “
Bam. Cabrera lashed a single to left field, scoring Jonathan Schoop from second to send the Tigers to a 2-1 win and a sweep of the three-game series with the Pirates at PNC Park.
“Just a professional at-bat by Miggy right there,” said catcher Austin Romine, whose base hit in the fifth plated the other Tigers’ run. “If we’re going places this year, it’s on his back.”
Pirates reliever Richard Rodriguez got two quick outs in the eighth before hitting Schoop in the shoulder. Then he seemed to stumble out of his delivery on a pitch to Cabrera and the ball came out sideways.
The really-wild pitch put Schoop in scoring position for Cabrera — who notched his 1,702nd career RBI, tying him with Reggie Jackson for 23rd on the all-time list.
“He never stops chirping,” Gardenhire said. “He’s really having fun. When he got on first base he was looking for me to pinch-run for him. We wanted to wait until he got to second. But I told Lloyd (McClendon, bench coach) if we don’t run and (Cron) hits a double I’m going to kick you in the butt (laughing).”
After relievers Buck Farmer and Joe Jimenez (fifth save) locked it down, the Tigers had their first road sweep since June 2018 when they swept the White Sox in Chicago.
“We’re in the games now,” Gardenhire said, trying to put the Tigers’ 8-5 start in perspective. “We’ve got some veteran players who help keep us in games. But we’re fixing to play the White Sox here (Monday-Wednesday) and that’s a really good baseball team. You start judging where you are at when you start facing that team.
“But I like what we have and I like the attitude.”
And he loved what he got out Turnbull, liked it a heck of a lot more than Turnbull himself, as a matter of fact.
“I thought he was filthy,” Gardenhire said. “I thought his ball was moving all over the place.”
Turnbull allowed just one run and five hits and became the first Tigers starter to go a full seven innings. But, to hear him tell it, it was a grind.
“I didn’t have my best stuff today,” he said. “I just wasn’t getting through my pitches at all. The slider wasn’t biting, the change-up was floating. I threw one decent curve ball and it hit (Colin) Moran in the foot.”
He wasn’t as overpowering as he’d been in his two previous starts; only six swing-and-misses and three strikeouts, and his balls-to-strikes ratio wasn’t what he’d like (40 balls, 52 strikes). The average exit velocity on balls the Pirates put in play through six innings was 95. There were eight hard-hit balls against him.
And yet — seven solid innings.
“He really worked through a lot of stuff today,” Romine said. “We went to his two-seamer and four-seamer a lot today. His four-seamer cuts and his two-seamer sinks. I leaned on the two-seamer more than normal. But I give Spencer credit for kind of recognizing what his strengths were on the day and in a particular inning.”
According to Statcast, he threw 38 four-seamers and 28 two-seamers, and only 14 sliders.
“I don’t think I would have been able to do this last year,” Turnbull said. “I think it speaks to the mental stuff I worked on in the off-season. Just find a way to get the job done. When your A-plan isn’t working, you have to find another way to do it.
“If you can’t blow it by them or snap off something really nasty and make them swing and miss, you just try to keep them off-balance. And that’s what I did.”
Romine doesn’t make too many mound visits, but he decided to have a chat with Turnbull after he walked the leadoff hitter in the third inning.
“Sometimes they aim,” Romine said. “With that kind of movement and that kind of arm, I want him throwing through me. I told him, ‘I want you to attack. I want your pitches to come through my glove, not just to it.’
“I think it serves as a quick break and a reset, too.”
In the sixth inning, which ended up being his only clean inning of the game, the television cameras caught Turnbull having a pretty spirited conversation with himself.
“Kind of the like Bird, huh,” said Romine, referencing Mark Fidrych.
Gardenhire laughed. He’s long been amused by the whole Turnbull experience.
“He’s always talking,” he said. “He’s got his routine. He leaves the field. He goes down the runway and we don’t see him. Then we hear the towel popping (towel drill) like three times and then he comes flying out of the dugout.
“My job is to watch for people who are down by that staircase so they don’t get run over by the Bull.”
Well, that and make sure you give him the ball every fifth day.