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'It's a weird virus': Spencer Turnbull puts COVID behind him, ready to start season

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Spencer Turnbull didn’t stay too long on the self-pity train.

“At first I was frustrated and disheartened a little bit,” he said. “But perspective is everything. You can look at it as, ‘It sucks, and woe is me, I can’t believe this happened,’” he said. “Or you can look at it as, ‘Yeah, it sucks but I’m going to be all right. I’ll be back soon. I could’ve been way worse.’”

Tigers pitcher Spencer Turnbull.

Turnbull, who tested positive for COVID-19 back in early March and is scheduled to make his 2021 debut on Wednesday, chose the latter.

“It’s just a reminder to slow down in life,” he said. “You realize family and relationships are the most important things and health is more important than playing the game of baseball.”

Turnbull paused.

“But obviously I missed it a lot and I am glad to be back,” he said.

He had made three spring starts, the last on March 10, and then he didn’t pick up a ball or leave quarantine for three weeks. He said he lost 10 pounds of muscle mass.

“It’s a weird virus,” Turnbull said. “I really don’t understand it or know how it works. But it does weird stuff to your body. I was never like, miserable miserable. I’ve heard stories of people having it way worse. But I definitely had the symptoms and I’m trying to get back to normal.”

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He spent an extra two weeks in Lakeland building up his physical strength. After being transferred to the alternate site in Toledo, his longest stint was 4.1 innings against the Reds alternate site team.

“I feel good,” he said. “I think I threw out to 70 pitches and I feel pretty close to normal. Just different. I’m lighter. I don’t have all my weight back yet. My velocity was down a little but in my start it started creeping back up as the innings went on.”

Manager AJ Hinch is hoping Turnbull can go five or six innings, but he will be watching with a wary eye as the pitch-count gets near 70. The plan was for Tarik Skubal to work in tandem with Turnbull for at least the first couple starts.

“I just want to pitch like me,” Turnbull said. “Not going to worry too much about results, just go out and compete and have fun. Hopefully punch a few tickets, strike some guys out, get some ground balls, eat some innings and win a ballgame.

"Just the normal.”

Yep. Sounds like Turnbull is ready.

Niko at short; Castro at second

Hinch described the move as a strategy, not a news bulletin.

For the first time this season, he wrote up a lineup card with Niko Goodrum starting at shortstop and Willi Castro at second. Castro had started 15 games at shortstop. The game was postponed (inclement weather) Tuesday but the same lineup is expected for the make-up at 2:10 p.m. Wednesday. 

“It’s probably something I should’ve looked at in the spring and didn’t,” Hinch said. “But as you watch Niko play shortstop, you see the opportunity to have a strong middle infield with Willi shifted over to second. I know they both can do everything. And I’ve asked everybody to be versatile except for Willi, and he’s as versatile as anybody on our team.”

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Goodrum was a Gold-Glove finalist at shortstop last year and played spectacularly at shortstop in a start in Houston. Castro, on the other hand is a minus-2 in defensive runs saved and a minus-3 in range, according Baseball Reference.

In addition, Castro has been inconsistent turning double plays.

“When those two guys are playing up the middle, I want to look at this configuration and see what it looks like,” Hinch said. “I don’t know if I’m going to stay with it each time they play together or if Willi will bounce back and forth.

“It’s not that big a deal to Willi or to me or to the team. But if it makes us stronger, then great.”

Hinch approached Castro in Oakland with his plan to play him at second on Tuesday.

“He had a great approach,” Hinch said. “He said, ‘I’ll play anywhere you want. Just put me out there and I’ll give you what I’ve got.' Confidence-wise, it didn’t hit him like a demotion and it’s not a demotion…Willi is a good Major League player who looks very comfortable on both sides of second base.

“On top of that, Niko is a very talented shortstop who makes all the plays.”

Cabrera closer

Miguel Cabrera (bicep strain) took batting practice in the cage again Tuesday and will continue to do that for the next couple of days. But by the end of the week, Hinch hopes Cabrera will be able to face live pitching.

And no, Cabrera won’t be going to Toledo on a rehab assignment.

“We will hopefully bring an alt-site pitcher up here to throw live batting practice,” Hinch said. “We want to give him a full live batting practice and then see where he’s at.”

Right now, Cabrera is trending toward a return when the Tigers hit the road again next week (Chicago-New York-Boston).

Around the horn

With the postponement Tuesday, the Tigers and Pirates will play two seven-inning games Wednesday (again, weather permitting). The make-up from Tuesday will be played at 2:10 p.m., with the regularly-scheduled game starting at 6:40 p.m.

The Tigers will start Michael Fulmer in the first game and Turnbull in the second.


Twitter: @cmccosky