Tigers righty Spencer Turnbull, who has spent the entire season on the injured list while rehabbing from last summer’s Tommy John surgery, is unlikely to make it back to a big league mound this season, manager AJ Hinch told reporters yesterday (Twitter link via Evan Woodbery of MLive.com). Turnbull hasn’t experienced any setbacks, but the team would need an “aggressive” timeline to get him back on the mound for a couple late-September starts. Given the Tigers’ place in the standings, it’s not much of a surprise that they’ll opt for a more deliberate and cautious approach to getting Turnbull back up to full strength.
Turnbull, 30 in September, has started 53 games for Detroit dating back to the 2018 season and has seen his results improve each year of his career. The 2021 campaign looked to be a legitimate breakout for the late-blooming, former No. 63 overall pick, as he tossed 50 frames of 2.88 ERA ball with a 21.9% strikeout rate, 6% walk rate and hefty 57.2% ground-ball rate. Turnbull, always stingy in terms of allowing home runs, faced 201 hitters and yielded just two long balls in 2021.
The peak for Turnbull undoubtedly came on May 18, when he punched out nine Mariners and allowed just two walks en route to the eighth no-hitter in franchise history — the Tigers’ first no-no since Justin Verlander’s one decade prior (nearly to the day). That historic effort required a career-high 117 pitches, but the righty showed little in the way of immediate fatigue or decline. He received an extra day’s rest, completed six quality innings in his next appearance, and bounced back from that with another sharp 100-pitch performance. Turnbull’s next start lasted just four innings before he departed with forearm discomfort, however, and while the Tigers were initially optimistic that a worst-case scenario had been avoided, he ultimately required Tommy John surgery in late July.
Though the Tigers knew Turnbull was something of a long shot to log meaningful innings this season, they still signed him to a modest two-year deal just prior to Opening Day. He’d been arbitration-eligible, and rather than head to a hearing over his 2021 salary, the team put forth a two-year, $3.65MM offer that’ll now pay Turnbull $1.5MM to rehab this season and a $2.15MM salary in 2023, when he’ll hopefully return at full strength. He’s still under club control through the 2024 season, so assuming all goes well with his rehab, Turnbull can give the Tigers two seasons of starts.