A long road to the ranks of Major League Baseball found its destination on Sunday afternoon for La Cañada Flintridge’s Nik Turley.
In his 10th season of professional baseball, Turley got the call-up from Minnesota Twins and returned to California to make his major league debut against the host San Francisco Giants.
Turley, 27, was greeted rudely by his hosts, but kept the Twins in the game, leaving in the fifth inning with a lead. However, the Harvard-Westlake product’s efforts were a footnote as the Twins’ bullpen was bombarded and the Giants prevailed, 13-8, on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Park.
Turley, who started opposite San Francisco’s Matt Cain, received a no-decision following four innings of work in which he allowed four earned runs on eight hits, including five doubles, and no walks, while he struck out four. He threw 73 pitches, 46 for strikes, and his major league earned-run average currently sits at 9.00.
It was an afternoon Turley will not soon forget, though, and one he’s been working toward for a long time.
“It felt really good to be out there,” Turley told reporters after the game. “I had a lot of nerves. I’d been waiting and dreaming about that since I was a little kid. This was my [10th] year in professional baseball, so I waited a long time. It’s pretty sweet.”
Simply put, Turley found himself pitching from behind, as he gave up two first-inning runs following back-to-back hits to start his career. Control problems and falling behind in counts often plagued him, but he showed moxie in thwarting off any truly big innings despite putting the leadoff man aboard in four of the five innings he appeared in.
Debuting in his home state, Turley was also pitching against a Giants organization he was a part of two seasons prior.
Signed as a minor league free agent by the Twins organization in October, the 6-foot-6 left-hander put together a sparkling 2.05 combined ERA at triple-A Rochester and AA Chattanooga, striking out 84 batters in 52-plus innings while walking just 15.
Turley was originally drafted in the 50th round of the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Players Draft by the New York Yankees. In 2015, he played in the Giants’ organization and in 2016 was part of the Boston Red Sox club before ending the season as an independent league player.
But his renaissance in the Twins organization led to his call-up.
Trouble found Turley from the jump as the very first batter he faced in his MLB career, Kelly Tomlinson, singled on a line drive to center field on a three-ball count. Eduardo Nunez followed with a double on a ground ball to left field and Turley got behind in the count against No. 3 hitter Aaron Hill. Falling behind, 3-1, Turley gave up a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Tomlinson for a 1-0 Giants lead and put Nunez on third. Up next was perennial National League All-Star Buster Posey. Turley got ahead, 0-2, in the count, but Posey grounded out to first base to score Nunez for a 2-0 lead. But it was the beginning of better things as Turley then struck out another former All-Star, Hunter Pence, on three pitches to end the inning.
The final bill was 20 pitches with 13 strikes with two hits allowed, two runs given up and one strikeout.
The Twins gave Turley immediate return run support with a pair of runs in the top of the second to tie the game at 2. Turley also had his first major league at-bat and grounded out to first base on the second pitch. He later lined out on a first-pitch offering in the top of the fourth.
Turley continued to struggle with his control, but retired the first two batters of the second inning for five straight outs before Gorkys Hernandez doubled. Turley struck out his pitching counterpart Matt Cain on three pitches to come away unscathed.
In the third, Turley held the Giants scoreless again, though he gave up a leadoff single to Tomlinson before retiring the side in order thereafter.
More trouble started from the outset of the fourth inning, as Pence doubled to lead off the stanza and scored on a Nick Hundley single to center to put the Giants back ahead, 3-2. Austin Slater followed with another double – the fourth given up by Turley at that point – to push Hundley to third. Turley induced a groundout to first base for the initial out of the inning and kept the runners on second and third. He struck out Cain again on three pitches for the second out, but with Tomlinson back up and having gone two for two, Turley got a mound visit. He proceeded to get ahead of Tomlinson, 0-2, before getting Tomlinson to ground out to third on a curveball.
A two-run single by Robbie Grossman in the top of the fifth put the Twins back in front at 4-3 and also chased Cain. Another run came around for a 5-3 advantage. Twins No. 8 batter Byron Buxton was retired to end the inning, leaving Turley to return to the mound for the fifth and in line for the victory if he could get through the stanza.
But Turley gave up a leadoff double to Nunez and the lefty was pulled to end the day and his debut.
Nunez later came around to score with the run charged to Turley.