Turnbull leaves with shoulder soreness; what now in Phillies' rotation?

Turnbull leaves with shoulder soreness; what now in Phillies’ rotation? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Starting for the first time since April 30, Spencer Turnbull exited Wednesday’s Phillies series finale in Detroit after three innings with right shoulder soreness.

It’s worrisome news for a team that began the week by placing Taijuan Walker on the 15-day injured list with a blister that has prevented him from gripping and throwing his splitter the way he needs to.

Given the circumstances with Turnbull — his return to the rotation and his return to Detroit to face the only team he’d known before the Phillies – the shoulder had to be pretty sore. He threw 36 pitches and felt pain on the 35th, a curveball.

“I just felt a little grab in the back of my tricep, shoulder, lat area,” he told reporters after the game. “The last curveball, it got a little tight on me. Hopefully it’s nothing serious but I wanted to tell them when I felt it. Didn’t want to do anything to make it worse. Hopefully I’m fine. We’ll get it looked at tomorrow but I think I’ll be all right.

“I don’t know what it is about this place here (Detroit). I just can’t seem to stay healthy here, maybe it’s cursed. Can’t seem to stay healthy here so glad to get out of here. Get back to Philly and hopefully feel better in the morning.”

Turnbull was drafted by the Tigers in 2014, made it to the majors four years later and started 30 games in 2019. He threw a no-hitter in May 2021 but was sidelined a month later, underwent Tommy John surgery and didn’t pitch again in the big leagues until last April. He had two lengthy stints on the injured list with neck discomfort during a frustrating 2023 season, which ended with him being non-tendered.

The 31-year-old right-hander will undergo testing on Thursday.

“We’ll know more tomorrow once we find out what’s going on and how he feels,” manager Rob Thomson said. “He felt a grab in the back of his shoulder and I didn’t want to take any chances. Went to the bullpen and the bullpen did a great job.”

The Phillies won the game, 6-2, and the series to improve to 53-27. Brandon Marsh went 4-for-4 with a homer, three singles and four RBI.

The Phillies have the best 1 through 4 in baseball but don’t have much starting pitching depth beyond their core four and the 5-6 of Walker and Turnbull. Most teams don’t.

Walker’s replacement on the active roster this week was lanky 25-year-old right-hander Michael Mercado, who was called up from Triple A after pitching to a 1.71 ERA in 47⅓ innings. Mercado made his big-league debut in the Phillies’ 8-1 win Monday, going 1-2-3 in the eighth inning with a strikeout. He flashed a 96-97 mph fastball, low-80s curveball and high-80s cutter.

Mercado was stretched out to six innings and 91 pitches in his most recent start with Lehigh Valley. That was only eight days ago, so he would make sense for a spot start in place of Turnbull if Turnbull is unable to take the ball next time.

“I think the leading candidate would be Mercado if we had to do something,” Thomson said. “He’s not that far away from his last start so he’s still stretched out and I’m pretty confident in that.”

The Phillies could also skip the fifth spot in their rotation because they’re off Monday. The next time the No. 5 spot would be necessary is Saturday, July 6, at which point they might have more clarity with Turnbull or Walker.

If both Turnbull and Walker miss multiple starts, the Phillies don’t have many options beyond Mercado. Max Castillo and Kolby Allard are on the 40-man roster but haven’t pitched well at Triple A. Nor has Mick Abel, who has a 7.08 ERA and isn’t yet on the 40-man.

The Phillies are 26 games over .500 with a 7½-game cushion over the Braves in the NL East, but if they don’t get good news on Turnbull and Walker in the coming days, they may need to explore adding an inexpensive rental starter before the July 30 trade deadline (a la Michael Lorenzen a year ago). They won’t need a fifth starter in October but they’ll need one in the regular season to prevent their bullpen from being taxed unnecessarily.

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