Turnbull's hot start giving Phillies a tough choice

Poised for move to bullpen, hurler flirts with no-hitter in dominant win over White Sox

April 20th, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- Alec Bohm hit a pair of three-run home runs on Friday night, but stole the show.

He carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning in a 7-0 victory over the White Sox at Citizens Bank Park, before allowing a one-out single to right field to Gavin Sheets. Turnbull threw a no-hitter with the Tigers on May 18, 2021, but he was unlikely to finish one Friday, even if he had kept the bid intact. He threw 92 pitches in seven innings, and would not have thrown more than 105-110.

“I thought about it a couple times, but you try not to,” Turnbull said about throwing a second no-hitter.

Turnbull’s first two months with the Phillies could not have gone any better. He signed a one-year, $2 million contract in February to be an insurance policy for the rotation. There was no guarantee that he would make the Opening Day roster. If he did, it figured to be as the long man in the bullpen, but he also could have been asked to start the season in Triple-A.

Instead, Taijuan Walker got hurt and Turnbull replaced him.

Turnbull is 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA in four starts. His hot start has everybody wondering: what comes next?

Walker is scheduled to make his final rehab start on Sunday with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. If it goes well, he is expected to be activated from the 15-day injured list and rejoin the rotation as early as next weekend in San Diego. Walker is in the second year of a four-year, $72 million contract. He did not pitch in the 2023 postseason, but he went 15-6 with a 4.38 ERA in 31 regular season starts, covering 172 2/3 innings.

For those reasons, he has earned the right to rejoin the rotation.

But Turnbull has earned the right to keep starting, too. Phillies manager Rob Thomson said no decision has been made, but Turnbull is expected to move to the bullpen.

“I obviously want to make it as hard as possible,” Turnbull said. “I want to start. I want to give the team the best chance to win when I’m out there. Obviously, I don’t want to pitch bad, so I’m going to go out there and do the best I can and let the results take care of themselves. All those decisions aren’t really up to me. I’m just here to help the team win, whatever role that is.”

One important consideration: Turnbull has not thrown more than 56 2/3 innings in a season since 2019. The Phillies had similar concerns last season about Matt Strahm’s workload. Strahm started in the rotation, then moved to the bullpen.

“We don’t know what the decision is, but again, it’s an innings limit,” Thomson said. “It’s just what it is. And I don’t know what that limit is. Usually you go up to 30 or 40 from the year before, but with our diagnostics and what they can do with the arm now, who knows? But we’re not going to put him in jeopardy.”

“I guess I understand that type of thinking,” Turnbull said. “I don’t feel limited at all. I feel like I can handle the workload. … I feel as healthy as I’ve felt in a long time. I’m not really concerned physically on how that workload will take a toll, but obviously a lot of those decisions aren’t up to me.”

Even if Turnbull moves to the bullpen, it doesn’t mean he won't be back in the rotation at some point. Injuries happen. Pitchers struggle. And the Phillies will turn to Turnbull again if they need him.

Turnbull made easy work of a team that is off to a historically bad start on offense. The White Sox are one of only seven teams since 1901 to score 38 runs or fewer in their first 19 games. They are the first since the 2004 Expos.

Bohm hit an opposite-field, three-run homer against Sox left-hander Garrett Crochet in the first inning to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead. He hit another three-run homer in the third to make it 6-0. It was the fourth multi-homer game of Bohm’s career, and he tied a career-high with six RBIs.

“Hands, eyes, body, mind were all synced up,” Bohm said.

Turnbull was synced up, too.

“It’s great to have a weapon like that at the back end of your rotation,” Bohm said.