Detroit Tigers fans and fantasy baseball players have a good idea of who Spencer Turnbull is. But his name should be notable to Major League Baseball fans after throwing a no-hitter Tuesday night in Seattle.
(Since that game was played in the Pacific time zone, however, many people are probably reading about it the morning afterward.)
It’s the fifth no-hitter in MLB this season (sixth if you count Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning effort), continuing a pace set to shatter the record of seven no-hitters in a single season. That mark has been reached four times, most recently in 2015.
Turnbull struck out nine Mariners batters and walked only two, throwing 117 pitches (77 for strikes) for the night. Seattle’s Mitch Haniger went 0-for-4, striking out twice, while reigning American League Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis notched three strikeouts in three at-bats.
The fourth-year starter came into Tuesday’s game with a 3.91 ERA in five starts, striking out 22 batters in 35 1/3 innings. And the longest Turnbull pitched among his five previous starts was 6 1/3 innings. Last season, the deepest he went into a game was seven innings.
In 2020, Turnbull emerged as one of the Tigers’ best starting pitchers. Yet followers of the team were more focused on the future with prospects like Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, while hoping incumbent starters Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer might yield some young talent in trade.
At 28, Turnbull is too old to be considered a prospect. But he could still play a role in Detroit’s rebuild, either as a low-cost, mid-rotation starter or perhaps a piece that could be dealt away for more prospects.
The Tigers have potential future pitching stars in Mize, Skubal, and Matt Manning, but their minor league organization is still thin in position players besides slugger Spencer Torkelson (2020’s No. 1 overall and centerfielder Riley Greene. As the 2021 season has made painfully clear, Detroit needs more bats.
Thus far, Detroit has a team .222 batting average (only Seattle is worse!) and .648 OPS, and their 148 runs are the fewest among AL clubs. Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is hitting .184 with a .528 OPS, two home runs, and 11 RBI, with at least two years and $64 million left on his contract. (The team will almost certainly pay an $8 million buyout for the final two club-option years on the deal.) Oh, and the Tigers’ 16-26 record is the third-worst in MLB.
At some point, general manager Al Avila has to address that void in the farm system and will likely have to do so through trade. That means giving up a pitcher the team might prefer to keep.
On one hand, a productive starting pitcher still under three years of team control (Turnbull will be eligible for arbitration beginning next season) is the sort of player a rebuilding team like Detroit should keep. Yet on the other, he could also be part of a trade package used to get that much-needed young bat.
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) May 19, 2021
For now, however, Turnbull’s legacy with the Tigers is that he threw a no-hitter in a Detroit uniform. He’s the sixth pitcher in franchise history to do so, joining Justin Verlander, Jack Morris, Jim Bunning, Virgil Trucks, and George Mullin. Verlander threw two no-hitters for the Tigers, in 2007 and 2011.
“This is the greatest achievement in my life so far, at least in my baseball career,” Turnbull said afterwards (via the Detroit News). “Definitely the most exciting. It’s a landmark stamp on my career to this point. I don’t know how to think of it in historical terms. But personally, I’m just happy to have my name written on something that can never be taken away.”