Hopes for a quick return to action for Detroit Tigers righthander Spencer Turnbull were already fading in recent weeks as the team indicated that he was still dealing with discomfort. Unfortunately, the worst scenario was confirmed Tuesday afternoon as the club announced that the 28-year-old will undergo UCL reconstruction surgery.
The timing for Turnbull couldn’t have been worse. He dealt with several minor injuries during his minor league career, denting his prospect status badly, but had finally been consistently healthy for the first time in his pro career in recent seasons. His 2021 campaign was off to a stellar start—including his no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners on May 19—but will now close with a 2.88 ERA/2.95 FIP over 50 innings.
Turnbull initially went on the 10-day injured list on June 5 with a forearm strain. He was moved to the 60-day IL on July 7 after a setback as he returned to throwing. The Tigers sought the opinion of several specialists before deciding on surgery as the only course of action.
Worse yet is the fact that Tommy John surgery this late in the season means that he is quite unlikely to see much action in 2022 as well. We’ll hope for the best, but most important is to get him 100 percent healthy for the long-term, and that probably means he won’t be back to that point until the 2023 season.
Spencer Turnbull will undergo Tommy John surgery, A.J. Hinch announced. Tests revealed chronic damage in his elbow. Typical timetable for return is 12-18 months.— Jason Beck (@beckjason) July 20, 2021
For the Tigers, this is also a wrench in the plans for the 2022 season. We don’t know how willing Chris Ilitch will be to commit big-time free agent dollars for the big bat they need to become a real threat next season. Now they’ll likely need a pretty good starting pitcher to pair with Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, and, if they decide to retain him into his final arbitration year, Matthew Boyd.
Fortunately, the coaching staff so far has proven quite adept at making do with pretty minimal talent. They may not require a high end option if they’re able to bolster the bullpen and build more depth, as they did via the additions of Julio Teheran, Jose Ureña, and Wily Peralta this season. The progress the young starters make over the final 10 weeks of the season will likely determine how much help they actually need heading into a 2022 campaign in which they should be looking to become a low-key contender.