Tigers' Spencer Turnbull to debut Wednesday; Tarik Skubal to work in tandem role
You knew at some point this season, manager AJ Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter would have to find creative ways govern innings for rookie starters Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize coming off a pandemic-shortened 2020 season when they both made the leap from Double A to the big leagues.
We’ve reached that point.
The Tigers will welcome right-hander Spencer Turnbull back into the rotation against the Pirates on Wednesday at Comerica Park. He was shut down on March 10 after three spring training starts and placed on the non-baseball (COVID-19) injured list.
Hinch announced the Tigers would use a modified six-man rotation for a few turns, using Skubal, who would have been on turn to start Wednesday, as a tandem starter.
“Tarik will have scheduled outings for the next one or two or three times out, for a couple of reasons,” Hinch said. “One, we’re inserting Turnbull into the rotation. Two, taking the long view for these guys, there will be a couple of instances where we’re going to back off our starters and give them shorter stints in a modified tandem start.
“Skubal will pitch in the Pittsburgh series. And you can anticipate the same thing for Casey (at a later point in the season).”
Hinch made it clear the move had nothing to do with Skubal’s health or performance. It was a plan that was devised back in spring training to help get Skubal and Mize, and all the starters, through a full season without having to be shut down for innings restrictions.
“We will probably do it a couple of times and we will also use a full six-man rotation at some point, as well, when we have stretches where we play a lot of games in a row,” Hinch said. “This is a plan, not a reaction.”
Skubal and Turnbull both threw bullpens on Sunday — Skubal in Oakland and Turnbull in Toledo. That would seem to indicate that Skubal would work in tandem with Turnbull on Wednesday, but Hinch isn’t committing to that.
“This is not an indictment of where Tarik is at in our rotation or what we think of his first few starts,” Hinch said. “But it’s a plan we’re going to put in place to try to be smart about our pitching resources throughout a six-month season.”
Skubal’s first three starts where laborious. He’s allowed nine earned runs in 13.1 innings, but more concerning was the 250 pitches he’s thrown to get through those innings.
“Taking Skubal and making him a tandem starter for a couple of starts makes sense to us,” Hinch said. “We will still be able to get good rest for the other starters and be able to ramp up Turnbull in the big leagues with a start or two to allow him to ease his workload back up.”
Turnbull, who wasn’t cleared to return until after the Tigers broke camp, isn’t fully built up. His longest stint in what amounted to a second spring training was 4.2 innings in an alternate site game last week.
Staying with 14
The return of Turnbull on Wednesday means another player will be sent back to the alternate site.
Hinch reiterated Sunday that he wants to keep 14 pitchers. That would appear to make right-hander Joe Jimenez vulnerable, especially after his last two outings in Oakland where he walked seven of the 10 hitters he faced.
“For two outings in a row, I felt like the stuff was coming out of his hand better than it was at the end of spring training,” Hinch said. “But the results were outside the strike zone. It’s just tough to get through an inning, especially against a disciplined-hitting team like (the Athletics).
“It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in him. I think he’s going to be a strike-thrower. He’s always been a strike-thrower. But the last two games have been painful for him.”
Clear the mechanism
If anybody needed a two-day break, it’s Tigers infielder Jonathan Schoop.
Fifteen games into the season and he’s still looking for his first extra-base hit. Eight singles and two RBIs are all he’s produced, with 18 strikeouts. In the last six games, he’s 3 for 22 with eight strikeouts.
“It’s been a tough run for him,” said Hinch, who gave Schoop the day off Sunday. “He’s hit a couple of balls hard and hasn’t gotten anything to show for it. Now it feels like every time he hits the ball hard, you’re hoping that it’s the breakout for him and he can get something good out of it.
“I said to him yesterday, ‘I just want you to smile at the end of the day.’”
Smiles have been few and far between for Schoop, who, as Hinch said, continues to work diligently with hitting coaches Scott Coolbaugh and Jose Cruz, Jr.
“With Jonathan, you trust the veteran part of it,” Hinch said. “You know he’s going to continue to push and work. But the bottom line, we’re a results business and you’ve got to find the results in the game. With the day off today and the off-day Monday, hopefully this can be a reset for him and he can start trending in the right direction.”