In terms of strikeout dominance, no pitcher has had a better introduction to Triple-A baseball through four innings than the Mud Hens’ Spencer Turnbull did Monday night in Toledo’s final regular-season home game at Fifth Third Field.
Turnbull struck out 11 in the first 12 outs of the game against visiting Columbus.
But for a team battling for a spot in the International League playoffs in the final week of the season, it was not enough in a 4-2 loss to the Clippers.
“We made too many mistakes on defense — throwing to the wrong bases, not going after balls aggressively,” Hens manager Doug Mientkiewicz said. “And we were leaving guys on bases that we shouldn’t have. When we play like that we don’t deserve to win.
The setback, which snapped a three-game winning streak, dropped Toledo (68-64) to 1½ games behind the Clippers (70-63) and Indianapolis (70-63) in the West Division race. The Indians, who entered the night leading the West, lost at home vs. Louisville.
The Hens remained a half-game behind Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and tied with Norfolk in the league’s wild-card race. Toledo has seven games remaining, all on the road — three at Indy then four at Columbus.
“We are where we are,” Mientkiewicz said of the IL race. “We’re in a good spot to be honest. We took three out of four [from Columbus]. If you would’ve told us that before the start of the series, we would’ve taken that. We’re not dead yet. We’ve just got to play better.”
The Hens scored a run in the ninth, when Pete Kozma’s single brought home Christin Stewart, but Toledo’s rally died there.
Turnbull, who had blanked Columbus through five innings on just two hits, surrendered four sixth-inning singles and two runs.
“I guess you can hope for that but I don’t know if I expected it or imagined it,” said Turnbull, a fifth-year pro who pitched at the University of Alabama. “Those first four innings were probably the best I’ve ever pitched, so it was fun to do that. It was definitely a special night for the first four for sure.”
“That’s one thing about this place — it’s really hard to see in the first part of the game.” Mientkiewicz said. “So, to take advantage of it, you pound the strike zone and he put them away when he should’ve.”
Columbus added a run in the seventh on a gift sacrifice fly by Bobby Bradley that scored Drew Maggi from third.
Maggi tagged up and bluffed toward home as Hens center fielder Daz Cameron mistakenly conceded the run and lobbed a throw into third baseman Dawel Lugo. Lugo hurried a throw home when Maggi took advantage, but his throw was late and sailed wild.
After yielding a leadoff double to the Clippers’ Brandon Barnes to open the game, Turnbull bore down to record the first three of his five consecutive strikeouts as he settled in with authority.
Maggi’s sharp lineout to shortstop ended the second and snapped Turnbull’s string of Ks, but he then struck out six more Clippers in a row to give him 11 (out of 12 outs) in his first four innings.
Turnbull was elevated from Double-A Erie, where he was 4-7 in 19 starts with a 4.47 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 98⅔ innings this season.
To put that in perspective, the previous high for strikeouts by any Hens pitcher was 10, which has been done four times.
“I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to finish better,” Turnbull said. “Everybody says, ‘It’s not how you start but how you finish,’ and I did not finish well tonight.”
Toledo staked Turnbull to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, when Christin Stewart’s single to right-center scored Jacob Robson.
That lead held until the top of the sixth, when Oscar Mercado, the No. 9 hitter for Columbus, led off with single to right, advanced on Barnes’ sacrifice bunt and Bradley’s bloop single to right, then scored on a single through the left side by Adam Rosales to tie it.
After the Clippers’ Yu Chang singled to left to load the bases — the fourth single of the inning — Hens pitching coach Mike Alvarez paid Turnbull a visit to the mound.
But Eric Haase followed with a sacrifice fly to center field to give Columbus the lead.
In his debut, Turnbull threw 68 of his 101 pitches for strikes. He allowed seven hits and three runs (all earned) in 6⅓ innings.
Clippers starter Adam Wilk (6-8), who earned the win, blanked the Hens for the next seven innings on just three more hits after yielding his lone run in the first.
Columbus got its third sac fly RBI in the ninth, this one from Rosales.
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