Phillies with decision to make on the horizon as Spencer Turnbull continues to shine

Phillies with decision to make on the horizon as Spencer Turnbull continues to shine originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

At first glance, the Phillies injury update Thursday afternoon was only mildly interesting. Righthanded starter Taijuan Walker (shoulder soreness) was scheduled to throw 60-65 pitches in a rehab starter for Class A Clearwater. Righthanded reliever Orion Kerkering (forearm strain) would pitch one inning.

Both would then fly back to Philadelphia to be reevaluated. Kerkering might be activated from the injured list as early as Sunday.

Those basic facts understated the intriguing possibility that the outlines of a difficult decision are starting to take form on the horizon. Walker is probably at least a few more starts away from being stretched out enough to rejoin the rotation. In the meantime, though, the guy who was picked to keep that seat warm until he returned has been phenomenal.

Spencer Turnbull, 31, cut loose by the Tigers after three-injury-plagued seasons during which he pitched a total of just 81 big league innings (including missing the entire 2022 season recovering from Tommy John surgery), picked up by the Phils just as training camp opened, has opened this season by allowing five hits and no runs in his first two starts.

His next start will be Saturday against the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. And, if he keeps pitching anywhere near this level, it would be hard to justify moving him to the bullpen or sending him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

It’s at this point that a manager usually shrugs and says something about this being a good problem to have. “If he keeps putting up zeroes it’s tough to take him out of the rotation. But we’ll see,” manager Rob Thomson said, neatly side-stepping the issue.

The reality is more complicated.

On one hand, Thomson owes it to every player in the clubhouse as well as the fan base to try to give his team the best chance to win on any given night.

On the other, Walker is in the second season of a 4-year, $72 million contract. If he’s able to pitch, the organization certainly wants to get as much return as possible on its investment.

What kind of message would it send if Turnbull continues to pitch well but gets bumped just because Walker is ready? But what kind of message would it send if a veteran, who seemingly made it clear that he felt disrespected last October when he didn’t make a single postseason appearance, can’t reclaim his job when he’s fully healthy?

The solution could lie in Turnbull’s lack of work the last three years. Thomson pointed out that, normally, it’s considered unwise for a pitcher’s workload to increase by more than 40 or 50 innings from one year to the next. If the Phillies follow that formula, he’d be capped at around 105 innings in 2024. “That figures a lot in our thinking,” Thomson said.

Other possibilities would include piggybacking two starters or going to a 6-man rotation, as the Phillies did for awhile last season. The latter would only be an option later in the season, the manager said.

FWIW, Walker pitched four innings for the Threshers against the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels. He gave up two runs on two hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out four. He threw 47 pitches, 32 for strikes. Kerkering pitched a perfect ninth, striking out all three batters he faced.


The Phillies will face lefthanded starters, Bailey Falter and Marco Gonzalez, in each of the next two games and Rob Thomson indicated that Brandon Marsh is likely to start both. In order to become an everyday player, Marsh has to prove he can hit lefties. In order to prove he can do that, he has to get opportunities.

“We have to get him in the mix. I’m not shying him away from lefthanded pitching.” The manager said. So far this season, Marsh is 2-for-11 vs. lefties.


Falter (0-0, 5.40) will start against LHP Cristopher Sanchez (0-1, 4.82) Friday night at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies will wear their City Connect uniforms for the first time beginning at 6:40 p.m.

Gonzalez (0-0, 2.45) will face Turnbill (1-0, 0.00) in a 4:05 game and the series will conclude beginning at 1:35 Sunday when RHP Mitch Keller (1-2, 5.29) opposes RHP Zack Wheeler (0-2, 1.89).

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