LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers right-hander Spencer Turnbull stood on the mound and started pitching.
He faced hitters for the first time in 629 days.
And he looked sharp.
“This was a big step for me,” he said. “It’s been a while.”
Before Thursday, Turnbull’s pitch came on June 4, 2021. By the end of July 2021, the 30-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.
In Thursday’s workout, he faced Javier Báez, Austin Meadows and Jonathan Schoop. His pitches looked sharp. He received a fist bump from catcher Jake Rogers, also coming back from Tommy John surgery.
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Turnbull impressed manager A.J. Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter.
Both coaches congratulated him as he came off the mound.
“Physically, he looks in a really good place,” Hinch said. “(It was) a mental step forward where you feel like a player again. It’s fun to see him smile, and I think he was really happy, regardless of the stuff, and the stuff was really good.”
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Turnbull felt adrenaline during his first bullpen of spring training, then nerves in his first live batting practice session. “I felt like a baby deer out there,” he said. The fastball and curveball produced solid results, but Turnbull wasn’t as pleased with his slider and changeup.
He is expected to be in the Tigers’ Opening Day rotation.
In 2021, Turnbull posted a 2.88 ERA with 12 walks and 44 strikeouts over 50 innings in nine starts, including a no-hitter that May against the Seattle Mariners. In 2020, he logged a 3.97 ERA with 29 walks and 51 strikeouts over 56⅔ innings in 11 starts during the COVID-shortened season.
“They’re similar to what they were before,” Turnbull said of his pitch characteristics. “I feel like my curveball is a little bit better. I made a slight adjustment on my wrist placement, just to be consistent and sharper, but it’s basically the same pitch. The slider and changeup weren’t as good today, but they’ve been fine in the bullpen sessions.
“The changeup, it feels weird trying to get a grip in live with the pitch clock, so that’ll come quickly, I’m sure. But the two-seam movement was really good, four-seam movement was really good.”
For the first time, Turnbull used PitchCom, the electronic pitch-calling system, in a game-type scenario. He also was forced to work with the 15- and 20-second pitch clocks, new to MLB in 2023.
“That was weird,” Turnbull said. “It wasn’t bad. I got used to it. There were only a couple times when the clock, out of the windup, would run down a little bit. That’ll be the one thing I’m going to have to get used to, if the call comes in a little later, and if it’s not what I want, I don’t have time to shake.
“I really hate that rule. I feel like that’s a huge disadvantage to the pitchers. I feel like we should have a timeout or something at least once in an at-bat. Out of the windup, we don’t have anything. I think it’s a huge oversight in the rules and needs to be changed, but we’re going to have to learn to work with that for right now. On those situations, I’m going to have to be OK with taking a ball or throwing a pitch that I don’t want to throw. That’s the issue that I see.”
Contact Evan Petzold at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.