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Parent: A lot of moving parts in Thomson’s (good) pitching dilemma

PHILADELPHIA — Rob Thomson has taken his time assessing what could be a crucial decision for him, and in announcing an update to his thinking Saturday, he made it kind of clear he really hasn’t made that decision as yet.

With the return of Taijuan Walker, the Phillies added a starting arm to what already appears to be the league’s best pitching staff over the season’s first five weeks.

The Phillies’ starting rotation went into a game against the San Francisco Giants on Saturday night leading all of MLB with 194.2 innings pitched, and leading the National League with a collective 2.54 ERA, which was second overall.

This was primarily due to the recent work of staff ace Zack Wheeler and NL Pitcher of the Month Ranger Suarez, who took the mound Saturday night with a 5-0 mark with a 1.32 ERA and 0.63 WHIP.

He’s hardly been alone in his revelatory efforts, as both Wheeler and Aaron Nola have essentially started strong, and fourth starter Spencer Turnbull, acquired in the offseason primarily to fill a long relief role, has been superb in Walker’s first-month stead.

Over six starts, Turnbull has a 2-0 mark with a 1.67 ERA in 32.1 innings pitched. A little better hitting support luck and Thomson would have a tough time selling the idea that maybe Walker’s return means Turnbull returns to the role for which he came.

Then again, the decision to do so now seems difficult enough.

With an early season schedule offering a fair share of off days, Walker’s return has necessitated some shuffling of the starters. Thomson recently mentioned the possibility of a six-man rotation at some point, though that time is hardly at hand.

Instead, the manager has been saying for a while that he’ll soon come up with a plan, and when that was expected to be unveiled Saturday … well there were a few questions of clarification volleyed back.

“(Cristopher) Sanchez is available out of the ‘pen today, because he’s on full rest,” Thomson said of his fifth starter and Saturday bullpen piece. “If he doesn’t pitch today, he’ll start Tuesday, and then Turnbull will go to the bullpen tomorrow on full rest, so he can be our long guy (there) for the time being. If (Turnbull) doesn’t pitch (Sunday), it sets up a potential piggyback on Tuesday.”

A “piggyback” would thus be both Sanchez and Turnbull splitting duties on Tuesday. So … got that?

Turnbull alleges that he does, and has mostly said all the right things about it. After a victory over the Chicago White Sox on April 19, in which he flirted with a no-hitter, Turnbull said he’d like to “make it as hard as possible” for Thomson to make the decision to put him back in the bullpen.

“I want to start,” Turnbull said then, but he quickly added, “… all those decisions aren’t really up to me. I’m just here to help the team win, whatever role that is.”

From the sound of things, Turnbull has been passing that same message on to his manager.

“He can give you length, obviously,” Thomson said of Turnbull. “He gives us another guy that can get on right-handed hitters. We’ve struggled a little bit with that. I have the confidence in him to put him into (late-inning) leverage (situations), so for the time being I think it’s the right way to go.

“He wants to start, but he said at the end of the day he’ll do anything to help the team win.”

So far, for Turnbull and to a much lesser degree Sanchez (1-3, 3.68 over six starts), the talk has been more about the roll they’ve been on as opposed to the roles they’re playing for this team. To Thomson, Walker’s presence can only enhance that.

Thompson on Saturday discounted the possibility that Walker — who did take the mound for the first time last Sunday, giving up six earned runs over 6.1 innings, but nonetheless ending his day with a W — should be anything but a starter. … At least for now, that is.

Instead, the manager’s master plan is to look at other alternatives for Turnbull and fifth starter Sanchez.

Turnbull appeared in only 61 games (60 starts) over five seasons (pandemic included) with the Detroit Tigers before signing with the Phils. For Detroit over that time he went 12-29 with a 4.55 ERA.

Maybe at 31, Turnbull has found something better … and now might not be the time to mess with that.

“Yeah there is concern,” Thomson conceded. “He’s pitched so well. But Sanchy has pitched pretty well, too. Yeah, there’s always concern when you’re doing something like that. That’s why it’s a tough decision.”

Tough indeed.

For Turnbull and this rotation, it’s been so good so far … but what may happen by tinkering with two of the starters to make room for innings eater and runs allower Walker?

“He got 15 wins last year,” Thomson countered about Walker, who wasn’t selected to pitch for even 15 seconds in the postseason last fall. But it’s clear the status of this decision is still very fluid.

“Great problem to have, tough problem to solve,” Thomson said. “And a tough decision to make.”

Contact Rob Parent at

Source: Berkshire mont

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