After COVID-19 battle, Detroit Tigers’ Spencer Turnbull is ready to ‘get back to normal’

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers right-hander Spencer Turnbull checked box scores every night in Lakeland, Florida, home of the team’s spring training facility. He did the same upon his transfer to Toledo, Ohio, where the alternate training site is located.

Turnbull admits he didn’t watch every game, but he saw most of them.

He knows about Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo’s early success and left-hander Matthew Boyd’s resurgence to the top of the rotation. And Turnbull — who was supposed to provide one side of a veteran 1-2 punch with Boyd — is aware of the team’s inconsistencies through the first 16 games.

One month after testing positive for COVID-19, Turnbull is slated to make his first MLB start this season Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“It’s definitely a weird virus,” Turnbull, 28, said Tuesday. “It just does weird stuff to your body. I was never like miserable, miserable. I’ve heard stories of people having it way worse. But I definitely had symptoms and am trying to get back to normal.”

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Turnbull had to leave the team March 19, roughly two weeks before Opening Day, because of COVID-19 protocols. He lost 10 pounds of “lean muscle mass” and felt weak.

“It was definitely disappointing and frustrating,” Turnbull said. “But there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. You just kind of take it in stride and try to work as hard as you can to get back as soon as possible.”

He was cleared April 1 to resume team activities in Lakeland with players involved in minor-league spring training.

The Tigers moved Turnbull to the alternate training site April 8, and he pitched two games against other alternate squads. His first start April 10 against the Chicago Cubs’ alternate site team was limited to 10 pitches because of rain. He finished a few additional simulated innings at an indoor facility.

Five days later, he pitched 4⅓ innings against the Cincinnati Reds in Toledo, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts. He reached roughly 70 pitches in what he viewed as a typical rehabilitation start.

“I feel good and pretty close to normal,” Turnbull said. “Kind of working my way back. I’m definitely a little lighter, haven’t gotten all my weight back yet. Velocity is getting there. It was almost there last start. It was a little down but started creeping back up as the innings went on.”

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Turnbull made three starts and faced 38 batters in spring training before he went to the COVID injured list. He gave up five runs on eight hits and four walks, with nine strikeouts, across nine innings.

Last season, Turnbull showed signs of dominance and finished with a 3.97 ERA through 56⅔ innings in 11 starts. He struggled with his command at times, granting 29 walks compared to 51 strikeouts. In 2019, Turnbull led the American League with 19 hit-by-pitches. He only plunked two batters last year.

As Turnbull makes his first start this season Wednesday, manager AJ Hinch has left-hander Tarik Skubal — previously in the starting rotation — set to come out of the bullpen in a tandem-type role. Hinch refers to Skubal as a starter in a modified six-man rotation.

Regardless of Skubal’s situation, Turnbull doesn’t think of himself as an opener.

He wants to pitch deep into the game.

“I’m expecting to go five or six (innings),” Turnbull said. “That’s the goal. I’m still in that ramp-up, build-up process right now, but I almost went five in Toledo, so I have no doubts of being able to go five or six, or even seven. That’s a pretty normal start.

“Obviously, you want to throw a complete game every time out. Realistically, you’re shooting for the sixth, seventh or eighth. As long as I can get close to that, I’ll feel like it’s a normal start.”

Miggy update

Working back from a mild left biceps strain, Miguel Cabrera will take batting practice indoors Tuesday and Wednesday because of the cold temperatures mixed with snow and rain at Comerica Park.

By the end of the week, Hinch said a pitcher from the alternate training site in Toledo will travel to Detroit. He is going to throw live batting practice to Cabrera. It’s one of the final steps in his return.

The Tigers are prepared to examine Cabrera’s status again this weekend to determine whether he should be activated. For now, it’s still too soon for the organization to give an exact timetable.

Hinch doesn’t expect the 38-year-old slugger to depart for the alternate site at any point in his recovery, meaning it won’t be long before he is back in the lineup. However, he will not play in the three-game series against the Pirates.

Cabrera was placed on the 10-day injured list April 11. He is 3-for-24 (.125) with one home run, three RBIs, three walks and four strikeouts in seven games.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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