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Turnbull misses bats, looks sharp, describes ‘night and day' difference with Phils

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — Pitching in a game for the first time since last September at Triple A in the Detroit Tigers' system, Spencer Turnbull worked two perfect innings Friday, striking out four and making a strong initial impression in his quest to make the Phillies' Opening Day roster.

Turnbull threw 28 pitches. The Marlins swung at 14 of them and half were swinging strikes. They swung-and-missed at his slider five times.

"He was fantastic," manager Rob Thomson said. "Good velocity, 94, slider was good. Downhill sink. Strikes. He was great. He can pitch, and he's very poised. He's not going to scare away from trouble. If he's throwing strikes, with his stuff, he's going to be fine."

Turnbull exited after the fifth inning, walked back to the clubhouse and spent a few minutes with new teammates Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Nick Castellanos before talking about his outing.

"I'm here for whatever they need me for. Just trying to make the team and excited to contribute," he said. "Definitely think my stuff is where I hoped it would be at this point, maybe a little better than I hoped this early in camp.

"All the stuff was working that I mixed in. Threw all my pitches at least once or twice. I was very pleased with execution, especially for the first time feeling genuine adrenaline. I had the gameday jitters again. It was nice to feel that. I was able to settle it down and execute pitches.

"Haven't felt that anticipation in quite a while. It's a little extra bump of adrenaline so it's always a challenge for me to able to settle that down. Felt like I did a good job of that today."

Turnbull has a four-seam fastball, sinker, slider and curveball, and he's working on a changeup that he threw earlier in his career.

"I really like my pitch shapes," he said. "Still getting a feel for a couple of them, but all in all, I'm very pleased.

"Usually I've got some good life on my fastball. The sinker and four-seamer kinda play off each other — one goes one way, the other goes the other way. And then off of that, I've got a really good slider and a curveball I'll flip in there, too. Curveball was pretty tight today, as well. Slider was the best it's been. Working on a good changeup, too, kinda going back to my old changeup. It was a little firm today but I like the movement on it."

Turnbull is in play for one of the final two spots in the Phillies' bullpen as a long reliever. The Phils know they will need more than five starters this season, every team does. They added Kolby Allard, Turnbull and Max Castillo, who are competing for that spot with Dylan Covey and Nick Nelson.

Turnbull is on a one-year, $2 million contract and can earn up to $2 million more in incentives. He was non-tendered by the Tigers earlier this offseason, a decade after being drafted in the second round by Detroit when Dave Dombrowski was leading that front office.

The 31-year-old was productive in the shortened 2020 season and the first two months of 2021 before a career-altering injury. In 20 starts over that time, he went 8-6 with a 3.46 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, allowing only four home runs in 106⅔ innings. The highlight was a no-hitter on May 18, 2021 in Seattle.

He made just three more starts that year before undergoing Tommy John surgery, not returning to the majors until April 2023.

Turnbull made only seven starts with the Tigers last season. He was optioned to the minor leagues twice and disputed both options because of injury. The Tigers sent him to the minors in May but he was quickly transferred to the injured list after describing neck discomfort.

Nearly three months later, Detroit finally activated Turnbull and again tried to option him to the minor leagues, but he reported a cracked toenail that resulted in another IL stint.

When the season ended, Turnbull was awarded a full year of service time for 2023.

"It's a frickin' blessing, man," he said of joining the Phillies. "I can't even begin to explain how grateful I am to have a new opportunity, a new situation here. It feels night and day different than last year. Extremely thankful and grateful and very excited."

Other pitching notes

• Taijuan Walker is back in camp after missing a few days last week for personal reasons. He threw on Thursday and felt "general spring training soreness" in his right knee afterward, Thomson said. The Phillies will take it easy with him the next few days before he throws again. Stay tuned.

• Griff McGarry, one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects who struggled mightily with control late last season in Double A and Triple A, had exactly the sort of Grapefruit League debut he needed from a confidence standpoint. He faced three batters and struck out all three with a fastball that sat 95-96 mph.

"It's always been control, not command," Thomson said. "We're getting him to power the ball through the zone and when he does that, he's going to have success because he's got really good stuff."

• Aaron Nola started against the Marlins and was hit hard in his second start of the spring, allowing seven hits, including three doubles, a lineout and a flyout to the wall in center. The Marlins whiffed on just three of his 36 pitches. Nola's had one or two of these types of outings every spring since 2016. He'll likely have three or four more tune-up starts leading into Opening Day March 28.

Thomson said afterward that one of Nola's objectives in the game was to stay away from his curveball, which he threw more than any other pitch in 2023.

• Friday was a split-squad day for the Phillies. Their other game was in Lakeland against the Tigers, started by Ranger Suarez. The lefty allowed one hit over three scoreless innings with two strikeouts.

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