Spencer Turnbull 'unlikely' to be cleared before Detroit Tigers leave spring training

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch is treading murky waters as he tries to explain what's happening with right-hander Spencer Turnbull, once a potential Opening Day starter.

He can't say too much.

Without the player's consent, teams cannot announce the details of someone missing time for COVID-19 reasons. Turnbull is away from the team's facility for coronavirus protocols.

"Right now, he's still away from the club and away from the complex," Hinch said Sunday. "He's not reporting or doing anything baseball-wise here with us. Obviously, we're getting toward the end of camp."

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Detroit Tigers pitcher Spencer Turnbull walks off the field during spring training Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, on the Tiger Town practice fields in Lakeland, Florida.

The Tigers break camp March 30 in preparation for Opening Day on April 1 against the Cleveland Indians. And there's a growing chance Turnbull won't be cleared for the beginning of the regular season.

"It's getting more and more unlikely that he's going to be able to do much between now and then, as of right now," Hinch said. "We'll see as we get toward the end of camp, if he's available or not."

Hinch said putting Turnbull in extended spring training is "not necessarily" an option.

If Turnbull can't get cleared by the time the Tigers leave Lakeland, he could possibly slide into the back of the rotation — lining him up for an April 6 start against the Minnesota Twins. Because the timeline of his situation is unclear, it's tough to determine when he might return. 

[ Spencer Turnbull away due to COVID protocol; Michael Fulmer to bullpen? ]

This spring, Turnbull has pitched nine innings across three starts. He has nine strikeouts and four walks, with five runs allowed. He went four innings on March 14 against the Baltimore Orioles, allowing one run with four strikeouts.

On Friday, Hinch announced Turnbull's absence, adding the scenario occurred "by no wrongdoing of his own." This means he didn't break any rules.

Urena building

Jose Urena of the Detroit Tigers delivers a pitch in the fourth inning against the New York Yankees during a spring training game on March 12, 2021, at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.

Right-hander Jose Urena hasn't pitched in a game since March 12. He tossed three perfect innings against the New York Yankees, with two strikeouts. Last Wednesday, the 29-year-old reached approximately 60 pitches in a four-inning simulated game on the backfields. 

He is scheduled to start Wednesday against the Philadelphia Phillies in Lakeland.

"These guys are getting stretched," Hinch said. "We've just yet to challenge the fifth inning with our pitch counts that should be used over the course of five innings. Volume-wise, they're maybe a start, start-and-a-half away from being conditioned to get into the season.

"I sure don't want to pull these guys when the season starts in the third inning with 75 pitches. That's not going to be successful for us."

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Foley update

Infielder Zack Short and right-handed reliever Bryan Garcia missed a week of camp activities when they were shut down for COVID-19 protocols reasons earlier in March. Right-hander Jason Foley, a member of the team's minicamp, also had to sit out for coronavirus concerns at the same time.

Foley has since returned to the facilities in Lakeland but hasn't pitched in games. Featuring a 100 mph fastball, the 25-year-old logged two innings across two bullpen appearances earlier in spring training, with one walk and one strikeout.

"We don't have a ton of innings," Hinch said. "His schedule hasn't matched up with our backups or dedicated innings. He had a large gap in time where he was not around the mini-camp, similar to Garcia and Short."

Pitching schedule

On Monday, right-hander Julio Teheran is starting against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin. For consecutive home games in Lakeland, the Tigers are sending out left-hander Tarik Skubal on Tuesday against the Yankees and Urena on Wednesday vs. the Phillies. 

The Tigers return to Dunedin on Thursday for another matchup with the Blue Jays. Right-hander Casey Mize is scheduled to start.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.