Tigers' Spencer Turnbull done for season, headed for Tommy John surgery

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Two worst words in baseball for a pitcher — forearm strain.

What seemed like an irritating but mostly innocuous setback when Spencer Turnbull walked off the mound in Chicago on June 4 has turned out to be a season-ending injury.

Spencer Turnbull

The Tigers right-hander, who on May 18 threw a no-hitter in Seattle and was on the cusp of a breakout year, will have reconstructive surgery on his elbow, Tommy John surgery, at the end of the month.

“He’s pretty resolved that he’s going to get this right and be back,” said manager AJ Hinch who announced the news before the game on Tuesday. “The frustrating part, besides that we are losing a really good pitcher, is that it wasn’t a singular event (that precipitated the injury).

“Usually you see a guy walk off the mound in a ton of pain. An obvious injury. He was a little sore. It wasn’t a UCL (ulnar collateral ligament). We didn’t know the extent.”

The initial diagnosis was forearm strain and Turnbull spent a few weeks in Lakeland to let the inflammation calm down. But once he started throwing again, the symptoms came back. That’s when he went through another battery of tests and the torn ligament was indicated.

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“He’s seen an array of doctors and had tests and multiple opinions,” Hinch said. “He had some chronic damage that was revealed through the injury. It wasn’t an abrupt injury to his UCL. When he came back and failed in his throwing program, he got retested. And that was recommendation.”

Generally, the timeline for recovery on Tommy John surgery is 12 to 18 months. That was pretty much the time it took both Michael Fulmer and Joey Wentz to return to full competition after the surgery. So expect Turnbull’s return to be in 2023, his age 30 season.

“Our organization has been tested,” Hinch said. “We were able to build a team that has some depth. Some guys have played their way here and some guys have been called on because of need or earlier for their time.”

The Tigers have been without starting pitcher Julio Teheran since early May. Matthew Boyd and Turnbull have been out since early June. Jose Urena went on the injured list for the second time earlier this week.

“The injuries have been very tough,” general manager Al Avila said. “Thank goodness we’ve had enough depth to cover ourselves. But that’s a lot of injuries and you’ve seen it across baseball. There have been a lot of injuries.”

Presently, the Tigers rotation consists of three rookies, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning, veteran Wily Peralta and Tyler Alexander, who was just transitioned into the rotation after working in the bullpen all season.

Avila said there was a chance Teheran could be back sometime late in September, but he wasn’t counting on it. Boyd has started to throw off the mound and is moving toward starting a rehab assignment within the next couple of weeks.

There are two other options at Triple-A Toledo, former Blue Jay Drew Hutchison and Ricardo Pinto, who played briefly for the Phillies and Rays. Neither right-hander is on the 40-man roster.

“It’s tough not only for this year and trying to continue to win, but it’s also tough on you looking forward to next year and into the trade deadline,” Avila said. “It affects everything. You just have to make adjustments. It’s going to be part of the industry. It always has been and it always will be.”

Turnbull is expected to have the surgery in Birmingham, Alabama, though not with Dr. James Andrews.


Twitter: @cmccosky