No-hit sensation Turnbull to have TJ surgery

July 20th, 2021

DETROIT -- Two months after threw a no-hitter, his 2021 season is over, and his 2022 campaign is in serious jeopardy. The up-and-coming Tigers starter will undergo Tommy John surgery after tests revealed chronic damage in his right elbow.

The news is a gut punch for a Tigers squad enjoying a midseason rebound led by a strong young rotation. Turnbull’s May 19 no-hitter at Seattle was hoped to be a springboard for his ascension among the Majors' top starters, but will instead have to serve as motivation through a lengthy rehab process.

Turnbull is expected to have surgery at the end of the month.

What happened?

The 28-year-old Turnbull went on the injured list with a right forearm strain on June 5, having made three starts following his no-hitter. The initial diagnosis was a muscular injury, with tests suggesting his arm was structurally sound, and the Tigers were hoping to get him back after the All-Star break. He began a throwing program at the end of June, but had to stop once his inflammation returned, which led to a closer look from several specialists.

The damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow had apparently built up over time.

“It wasn’t a singular event,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Usually when you see a guy walk off the mound and he’s in a ton of pain, there’s this obvious injury. He had a little bit of soreness when we put him on the injured list to begin with. It wasn’t the UCL, so we didn’t really know what the extent of it was. When he came back and threw, it revealed itself as more and more inflammation, and the damage that was done to the UCL over time was enough to warrant the surgery.”

When might Turnbull return?

The Tigers won’t have any timetable on when he might return until after surgery, but a typical timetable for recovery and return is 12-18 months. Michael Fulmer returned 16 months after his surgery in March 2019. Tigers prospect Joey Wentz returned to game action this May, 14 months after his surgery in March 2020. Both of those timetables, in Turnbull’s case, would take him to the end of next season. If he pitches down the stretch next season, it might be simply to get him work to come back ready for 2023.

What does this mean for the Tigers’ pitching plans?

Short-term, Turnbull’s surgery means the Tigers will be leaning on rookies , and in the heart of the rotation. Mize has been making abbreviated starts his last three outings, including four scoreless innings Monday against Texas. He could have one more shortened outing Saturday at Kansas City, but will remain in the rotation. Skubal, too, will have his innings limited for a stretch coming up. Manning returns on Wednesday. Veteran Wily Peralta will likely remain in the rotation going forward, while José Ureña should return from his groin strain relatively soon.

The Tigers are hoping to get Matthew Boyd (left arm discomfort) back later this summer. He’s expected to throw off a mound again next week to begin building up his arm for a return. Julio Teheran, out since April 10 with a right shoulder strain, also could return by season’s end.

“There’s a possibility,” general manager Al Avila said of Teheran. “If it is, though, it’s going to be late in the year. I’m not going to hold my breath to that, but I’m hopeful.”

Turnbull’s injury has a bigger impact on next season, when the Tigers hope to take a bigger step towards a return to contention. Instead of entertaining the idea of adding a starter to complement a core of Boyd, Turnbull, Mize, Skubal and Manning, the Tigers arguably need a starter with Turnbull out. That could impact the priorities Avila takes into a market where shortstop has been expected to be at the top of Detroit’s needs.

“Obviously as you look forward to next year and the Trading Deadline, it affects everything. It really does,” Avila said. “So you just have to make adjustments. It’s part of the game.”