Tigers to deploy six-man rotation when Turnbull returns? Hinch noncommittal

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Cleveland — The open date is sitting there, kind of ominously — April 19.

The Tigers will have just completed a 10-game road trip through Cleveland, Houston and Oakland, with a stretch of 20 games in 21 days coming after the day off. 

And right-handed starter Spencer Turnbull could be close to returning to the rotation.

Will that be roster-shuffling Monday?

Too soon to call it.

Spencer Turnbull

“Spencer is going to need to do a few things before that,” manager AJ Hinch said.

Turnbull, who is on the non-baseball (COVID-19) injured list, reported for duty Friday at the Tigers’ alternate site in Toledo and soon he will start throwing competitive innings, either in a simulated game or in a game against another alternate site.

“He’s moving into the next phase of his rehab, so to speak,” Hinch said. “We will continue to assess how he’s doing, where he fits in and when he fits in. Right now he’s just getting into better competition and more game-like stuff.

“We will see where it takes us.”

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Turnbull, who was vying to be the Tigers’ Opening Day starter, made three spring starts, the last on March 14, before he was shut down and placed in quarantine. The presumption is that when Turnbull returns, the Tigers will use a six-man rotation.

Hinch did not commit to any specific timing.

“That is one option we have,” he said. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen between now and then. So anything I’d say now can change on a day-to-day basis. We could consider a six-man rotation when he comes back, but maybe something happens between now and then that we’re not anticipating that makes us make a different decision.

“I’m not committing to anything.”

Cat and mouse

Pitching against the same team, probably the same lineup, twice in six days, it’s probably like a lot of things in baseball — you can make it as complicated as you want to.

“It’s the cool chess match you get to play in baseball,” said catcher Grayson Greiner, who will likely catch lefty Tarik Skubal against the Indians on Saturday, just as he did at Comerica Park last Sunday. “We just played them. It’s the same pitcher and a lot of the same guys in the lineup. So you can either go with whatever worked last time or you can think they are going to be sitting on that and throw something different.”

Or, you can just go with whatever is working that day.

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“Yeah, a lot has to do with what pitches are working and what he’s able to command,” Greiner said. “You don’t really want to go in with a script, saying you’re going to throw this percentage of this pitch and this percentage of that pitch.”

The Indians had seven right-handed hitters in their lineup against the lefty Skubal last Sunday. You would expect them to be similarly right-handed dominant on Saturday.

Curiously, Skubal only threw four split-changeups in his 5⅓ innings of work. The split-change is usually a pretty good off-speed weapon for a lefty to use against righties because it’s the only pitch in his arsenal that will move away from right-handers.  

“Early in the game we tried to mix in a couple and he bounced them,” Greiner said. “Plus, his slider was pretty effective. We wanted to get him deeper in the game and the best way to do that is to get strike one, strike two and have quick at-bats.

“He had a pretty good feel for his fastball-slider combo that day.”

But every game unfolds differently, even if it’s the same pitcher and the same nine hitters.

“If his splitter is working good one day, we might throw 20 of them,” Greiner said. “You never know.”

Grossman draws short stick

Trying to maneuver five players who only play outfield into three lineup spots on a daily basis is a Rubik’s cube dilemma for a manager. How do you exploit matchups, ride the hot bat and still keep all five players active and sharp?

“It’s tough,” Hinch said. “It’s something I talk to our coaches about daily. It’s hard to get them all in the mix."

Rule 5 rookie Akil Baddoo’s blazing start has significantly impacted the equation. He was supposed to be the guy Hinch used as a late-inning runner or defender. Now he can’t take him out of the lineup, which is why JaCoby Jones got two days off against the Twins and Robbie Grossman got the night off Friday.

“Quite honestly, giving Robbie the day off today, I don’t really have a great reason,” Hinch said. “There wasn’t any analysis to it. Those guys just have to take turns wearing it for me to keep everyone involved.”

It’s not like he can break it up according to right-hander/left-hander splits. The vast majority of pitchers in the big leagues throw right-handed.

“It’s a difficult roster construction but it’s a good problem to have if everyone is playing well,” Hinch said.

Around the horn

The Tigers have selected five players from the alternate site to travel on this three-city trip and serve as a taxi squad — pitchers Kyle Funkhouser, Alex Lange and Erasmo Ramirez, infielder Renato Nunez and catcher Dustin Garneau. Taxi squads were a pandemic procedure implemented last year to protect teams from a sudden outbreak of COVID-19. 

Tigers at Indians

First pitch: 6:10 p.m. Saturday, Progressive Field, Cleveland

TV/radio: BSD/97.1


LHP Tarik Skubal (0-0, 3,38): The Indians threw seven right-handed hitters at him last Sunday and he only allowed four hits in 5⅓ innings. Interesting, though, that with all those right-handers, he only threw four split-changes, which predicts to be an effective weapon against righties.

RHP Aaron Civale (1-0, 3.86): The Tigers only got two hits off him last Sunday, but both of them left the yard. Nomar Mazara hit a slider out and Akil Baddoo hit an 89-mph four-seamer, homering on the first pitch of his big-league career. The rest of the day belonged to Civale and his six-pitch mix.


Twitter: @cmccosky