Phillies’ curious plan could keep one of their top starters in the rotation

How can the Phillies keep the red-hot Spencer Turnbull in the mix?
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Spencer Turnbull
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Spencer Turnbull / Albert Cesare/The Enquirer / USA TODAY

When Taijuan Walker came off the IL recently, it created a dilemma in the starting rotation for the Philadelphia Phillies. The original plan was to have Spencer Turnbull serve as a starter until Walker returned, then Turnbull would be relegated to the bullpen.

With Turnbull being nothing short of spectacular as a starter, sporting a 1.67 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with 36 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings, it makes no sense to take away something that has been working. In this case, should the Phillies implement a six-man rotation to keep everyone happy?

According to Todd Zolecki of, the Phillies have potentially revealed their plan, and it is quite a unique one that could either end up working really well or end up backfiring on them.

The general consensus is that they don’t want to go with a six-man rotation because that would ultimately mean too much rest for the starters and one less arm available for the bullpen, increasing the risk of the relievers being overtaxed in the long run.

At the same time, with Turnbull not having logged more than 57 big league innings in any of his past four seasons due to injuries and other circumstances, the Phillies want to manage his workload to keep him as healthy and effective as possible. 

Phillies’ curious plan could keep Spencer Turnbull in the rotation

As a result, Phillies manager Rob Thomson hinted that a slightly modified “piggyback” method for Spencer Turnbull could be in play.

The current starting five, Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suárez, Cristopher Sánchez and Taijuan Walker, will remain. Whenever it’s Turnbull’s day to pitch, it will occur on the same day as one of the other starters in the rotation — Zolecki speculated Sánchez as the candidate.

Depending on the matchup for that day, either the originally scheduled pitcher starts and Turnbull piggybacks off of them or vice versa. The main drawback is that even if the starting pitcher for that day pitches well, they need to come out after a set number of pitches/innings.

“If you’re at five [innings] and 50 pitches, you’re coming out,” Thomson explained, per Zolecki. “Because that other guy has to pitch.”

When Thomson was questioned about whether such a strategy could inadvertently affect both pitchers’ effectiveness, he was optimistic about the potential results, despite the uncertainty, since it could lead to much-needed rest days for the bullpen.

“I don’t know,” Thomson said. “If they continue to pitch well, I think it will work out extremely well. If that’s the way we go. Because it gives the bullpen a day [off].”

But with Walker having a semi-rocky season debut, when he was left in just a little too long, giving up six runs on eight hits in 6 1/3 innings against the San Diego Padres, perhaps the Phillies' rotation dilemma will work itself out in the end without carrying out the piggyback method for too long.

Nevertheless, with the Phillies having an excess of riches in their starting rotation, no matter how they want to deploy it, it's one thing they shouldn't need to worry about in the near future. According to Zolecki, we could find out the Phillies' final plan on Friday.