Turnbull pushes back against Phillies' innings limit ahead of move to the bullpen

Spencer Turnbull, the feel-good story of the early season, says he can handle a starter's workload.
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Spencer Turnbull
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Spencer Turnbull / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

In case you haven't been keeping up with the latest Philadelphia Phillies drama, the team is still planning to slot Taijuan Walker into the rotation and is expected to move Spencer Turnbull to the bullpen — much to the chagrin of a large portion of the fan base — even though nothing is official yet.

On Wednesday, Turnbull added another chapter to what has been a magical start to his season. He gave the Phillies every chance to win a game they eventually lost 7-4, holding the Cincinnati Reds to one run on three hits over five innings. He struck out eight and walked three in the outing and left with a 3-1 lead.

The one run, a solo home run off the bat of Reds leadoff hitter Will Benson, slightly raised his ERA to 1.33, But he still finished the day with the second-lowest ERA among qualified NL pitchers.

It's an understatement to say that the right-hander has held his own in the rotation as the fifth starter. He's pitched at an ace-like level through five outings, solidifying one of the best rotations in baseball.

Turnbull pushes back against innings limits

After Wednesday's game, Turnbull commented on his imminent trip to the bullpen and pushed back against the Phillies' focus on an innings limit. He hasn't thrown more than 56 2/3 innings in any of the last four years, and the team is concerned about blowing past what they deem to be a safe increase in innings.

Apart from his personal feelings about the eventual decision and the team's reasoning behind it, Turnbull said all the right things. He understands his job and role and wants to be a team player.

"I'll do whatever they tell me, like I said, it's not my decision," he said. "Whatever's going to give the team the best chance to win. That's what I want to do. So if they see that going in a different direction, then that's fine."

The different direction? The team wants to replace one of the best starting pitchers in the early season with an $18 million-a-year starter who had trouble getting his fastball over 90 mph in his last rehab outing. Turnbull obviously wants to stay in the rotation.

"I've enjoyed my five starts so far, and I feel great," he said. "Feel strong, feel healthy. I'm not worried about an innings limit or anything like that. It's nothing I haven't done before, but other factors kept me from throwing a lot of innings over the last couple years. Like Tommy John surgery, obviously, but the year before that, it was a short season with COVID."

Turnbull feels like his body can handle a starter's workload

Turnbull threw 148 1/3 innings in 2019, his first full season in the majors. He followed that with 56 2/3 innings in the shortened 2020 season. Then disaster struck in 2021 when he went down with an elbow injury that required surgery. After missing all of 2022, his 2023 was derailed by neck and toe problems.

Now 31, despite the lack of innings buildup over the last four years, Turnbull isn't worried about innings limits, which is the Phillies' main explanation for the expected move to the bullpen. Well, that and being forced to give Walker another chance to make good on his four-year, $72 million contract.

"I feel like my body can handle it," Turnbull said of the workload. "I think the elbow injury is kind of a little bit of a different thing as far as just innings limits and stuff, I think that's a different factor. ... I'm personally not concerned about that, but I understand. A lot of science and everything goes into it."

Concerned or not, he doesn't have much of a choice in the matter. He hasn't been told his fate yet but hopes he's done enough to give himself a chance to continue starting, per MLB.com's Todd Zolecki.

"Hopefully I pitched well enough to give myself a chance to stay in that conversation," Turnbull said, per Zolecki. "I know there’s other factors involved and stuff like that, but they haven’t said anything to me yet, so I’ll just get ready to prepare for my next start and see how it goes.”

We'll all have to see how it goes on Sunday when Walker makes his season debut in San Diego against the Padres. While our fingers are crossed for a positive outcome, at least we can rest assured that Turnbull is waiting in the bullpen for his next chance.