How Spencer Turnbull is approaching his uncertain role with the Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies


The Phillies have a good problem on their hands — too many starters and not enough spots — but that doesn’t mean that it is an easy problem to solve. Before Saturday’s game against the Giants, manager Rob Thomson announced their temporary solution: Cristopher Sánchez would head to the bullpen on Saturday, and, if he wasn’t needed, he would start on Tuesday. If Sánchez was needed in relief Saturday, Spencer Turnbull would have gotten Tuesday’s start.

Sánchez wasn’t needed Saturday, so Turnbull will head to the bullpen on Sunday, so he can be the “long man for the time being,” Thomson said.

When asked what Turnbull’s long-term role was, Thomson essentially said anything and everything.

“Well, I think he can do a lot of different things because he can give us length, obviously,” Thomson said. “And he gives us another guy to get on right-handed hitters. Because we’ve struggled with that. I have the confidence in him to put him into leverage, so, I think for the time being, I think that’s the way to go.”

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He added: “Now, who is to say that we don’t change our minds and put him back in the rotation? That’s always an option, too.”

Turnbull, who has a 1.67 ERA over his six starts this season, has never pitched out of the bullpen in his professional career. It was something he was preparing for in spring training, before starter Taijuan Walker was placed on the injured list. Turnbull abruptly was added to the rotation and has stayed there ever since.

Now that Walker is back from his rehab assignment, Turnbull’s spot is in jeopardy. The Phillies cited his limited workload in previous seasons — because of injury — as a reason why they want to be careful with him, but Turnbull has said he feels as heathy as he’s ever been.

He still wants to start, but he also wants to help his team in any way he can. When asked if it is difficult to not know what his long-term role will be, Turnbull said it “definitely” is.

“Again, at the same time, I’m confident that I’m going to be able to figure it out,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when, where, and how, and what that looks like. I feel really good about how I’ve been performing so far. I feel like I’ve done enough to earn a spot or prove I belong or whatever else you want to say. There are a lot of really great guys on this team, so it’s just kind of out of my hands.

“Just trusting the Lord to take care of me and protect me and help me figure it out as I go along. It’s still a lot of fun to be on a great team, winning ballgames, and, obviously, that is what matters the most.”

As Thomson alluded to, nothing is set in stone. If the Phillies choose to go to a six-man rotation at some point or a starter gets hurt, Turnbull will find himself back in the rotation. The trick will be keeping him stretched out, which could be difficult.

Thomson suggested piggybacking Turnbull as a way to do that — something Turnbull hasn’t done at the big league level — and going to a six-man rotation sooner rather than later. But Turnbull was unsure of how they’d go about it.

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“That’s a great question,” he said. “I don’t really know [how I stay stretched out]. Just trusting the Lord to help me figure it all out. I’m going to do my best to adapt to whatever situation I’m in. It’s definitely challenging. But I trust the guys around me and trust that we’re going to come up with a good plan for whatever the situation is. And go from there. I’m going to try to be like water, what [Jeff Hoffman] told me in spring, and be ready for anything.”

Because Turnbull is used to having ample time to prepare for starts, it will take some time for him to adjust to a new routine out of the bullpen. Because of that, Thomson plans to call on another reliever before Turnbull to allow him more time to get ready.

“I think what we’re going to have to do is bridge to him, no matter what happens,” Thomson said. “And use some other guy for an inning, or one-plus, to give him time to get ready so he can go into a ballgame.”

As of now, Zack Wheeler will start on Monday, Sánchez will start on Tuesday, and Aaron Nola will start on Wednesday. Wheeler prefers to pitch on four days of rest. The rest of the Phillies’ starters will get five days of rest.

» READ MORE: Spencer Turnbull is embracing his ‘fresh start’ and new challenge with the Phillies

In the meantime, Turnbull will try to be as flexible as he can.

“We’re going to figure it out as we go,” he said. “Hopefully, I get to keep starting. But if it goes in that direction, then we’ll figure it out. Just going to continue to lean on the training staff. Me and Paul [Buchheit, head athletic trainer] have a good relationship. We’ve been working really good together so far, so just trying to figure out different changes to the different routine elements.

“We have a great training staff here, so they’ll help me because they’ve done it before. They’ve gotten guys that are relievers to transition to starting, or starters to transition to relieving. Ranger [Suárez has] done it, I know [Matt] Strahm has done it. So maybe we’ll figure something out similar to what they’ve done in the past.”

Turnbull added: “I don’t really know what [my role] will be. Just trying to keep my mind open and give it everything I’ve got, whatever that looks like. I know once I have the ball in my hands, I’m going to do what I can do to get outs. I care a lot about winning. I want to win.”



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