HomeTeamsPhilliesSpencer Turnbull is Phillies Happiest Early Season Surprise

Spencer Turnbull is Phillies Happiest Early Season Surprise

While the Philadelphia Phillies highly touted offense struggles out of the gate for the third consecutive year, a pleasant surprise has surfaced from an unlikely source. Oft-injured starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull has turned in two superior outings in the young season, twirling eleven strong innings over two starts, while allowing just one unearned run, on five hits, with 13 strikeouts and 1 walk. The Phillies have won both games he started.

The record would be outstanding for any pitcher, but coming from a player who has pitched in only 27 Major League games in the past four years, and who was signed by the Phillies for $2 million in February as “rotation depth,” these numbers are astounding.

It has been a long road back to the top of a Major League pitching mound for Turnbull. Since he pitched a no-hitter for the Detroit Tigers on May 18, 2021, Turnbull has won exactly two Major League games. Less than a month after the no-hitter, Turnbull was on the injured list. He had thrown more pitches than in any game before (117) in the no-hitter. Whether that had anything to do with his injury is not clear, but on July 20, 2021, the Tigers announced that Turnbull would have season ending Tommy John surgery. He did not pitch at all in 2022 and was ineffective in a brief stint with the Tigers in 2023 as well as in a more extended period in Triple A. The Tigers did not tender him a 2024 contract.

On the advice of scout, David Chadd, who knew Turnbull from his days as scouting director with the Tigers, the Phillies signed Turnbull, hoping he would provide some insurance for a very good, but thin, starting rotation. Turnbull had just returned from Europe, where he had gone for a honeymoon after his offseason marriage. He had not thrown much, but he was healthy for the first time in years and the Phillies were willing to wait for him to round into shape.

Late in spring training, the Phillies number four starter, Taijuan Walker was shut down with a shoulder issue. Walker’s injury thrust Turnbull into the starting rotation. His response has been remarkable. After two spring training starts, where the Phillies worked to stretch him out for his new assignment, Turnbull took the mound on April 2, the Phillies fifth game of the season, at Citizens Bank Park, against the Cincinnati Reds. He was the winning pitcher, twirling five strong innings and allowing just one unearned run, in a 9-4 Phillies victory.

Turnbull followed that up with six shutout innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 8, as the Phillies eventually won, 5-3 in twelve innings. The two outings of five innings or more without allowing an earned run were the first two such outings for Turnbull since he pitched the no-hitter almost three years ago.

Manager Rob Thompson is pleased. “At the start of spring training we really weren’t sure what he was going to do. Was he going to be a long man out of the bullpen, or a starter in Triple A to give us rotation depth? He’s done a great job for us.”

After going through Tommy John surgery in 2022 and a year of struggles in 2023, Turnbull is happy to be healthy and pitching well. “Last year just went horrendously wrong,” he said. “I didn’t get the time to fully return from Tommy John, so that was frustrating.”

Turnbull has added a sweeping slider to his repertoire, which he threw to very good effect in the Cardinals game, getting six swings and misses on the 11 sweepers he threw.  Phillies pitching coach, Caleb Cotham, has encouraged him to use the pitch more. “It’s definitely helping a lot. It gives me an extra weapon.”

“I feel like right now, I’m in the middle of spring training, when your kind of stretching out. My body is adapting to it. But I feel good. I’m very happy. Pleased with my performance.”

If Turnbull continues to pitch well, manager Thompson will have a decision to make when Walker returns sometime in May. Turnbull could stay in the rotation, or the Phillies could expand to a six-man rotation for the summer months. Considering how thin the Phillies starting pitching looked at the start of spring training, it will be a good problem to have.


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