Lefthander Josh Turley’s time with the Tigers was coming to an end.
It was last summer, in the midst of a 6.27 ERA campaign at Triple-A Toledo, when the organization came to him with a final opportunity to stay in the system: Start throwing a knuckleball.
Turley’s coaches had noticed him throwing a knuckleball and said it looked pretty good. Now 27, Turley figured it would be his best chance to reach the big leagues.
After working with Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro in the offseason, Turley is now putting up solid numbers at Triple-A Toledo. Through eight appearances, including six starts, he logged a 3.86 ERA with 41 strikeouts, 27 walks and 34 hits in 42 innings.
“He’s kind of a trickster,” vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said. “Those aren’t easy types to evaluate as to where the end game is, but the obvious part, that’s pretty simple. If you’re performing well, it’s a pretty good sign.”
Turley now throws a knuckleball nearly 90 percent of the time. The pitch was impressive for former Tigers manager Jim Leyland—now a special assistant to general manager Al Avila—who relayed to Littlefield that Turley gets very uncomfortable swings because of the movement on his ball. And the fact he’s the rare lefthanded knuckleballer.
In two of his past three starts, Turley struck out nine or more batters. Against Triple-A Gwinnett on May 20, he allowed two hits over five innings, recording 10 of his 15 outs via strikeouts.
The biggest reason why the Tigers came to Turley, a 16th-round pick in 2012 out of Baylor, about making the switch was because of his pedestrian, mid-80s fastball. But his knuckleball—which is rare in affiliated baseball—makes Turley one of the more interesting pitchers to watch going forward.
If he continues his current performance, it would not be a surprise to see him join the Tigers as a September callup.
>> Righthander Franklin Perez, who sustained an oblique strain late in spring training, is throwing long toss out to 105 feet, Littlefield said. “He looks good. He’s in great shape, feeling good,” he said. “It just takes time.” The Tigers are hoping Perez can return to make a handful of starts this season, but they won’t be putting too much stock in the performance, because of his rust at a time when players will be razor sharp.
>> Low Class A West Michigan righthander Matt Manning struck out nine batters in his May 22 start, though scouts continue to see a pitcher who has much more projection than polish.
>> High Class A Lakeland righthander Alex Faedo’s velocity has been noticeably down this season, sitting between 89-92 mph, but his results have been fine. After a couple of shaky outings, Faedo bounced back on May 18, allowing two hits over seven scoreless innings. “When it comes back— because it’s going to—he’s going to be a fun guy to watch progress,” Littlefield said.