Phillies Rotation

Taijuan Walker likely at least a month away from returning for Phillies

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WASHINGTON — The Phillies haven't put a timetable on Taijuan Walker's return from a right shoulder impingement, but when you do the math, it's looking like at least a month.

Walker will throw live batting practice on Saturday at Nationals Park, where the Phillies are playing their first road series of the regular season. He'll get two "up-downs" during the session to simulate ending one inning and coming back out for another. From there, the Phillies will determine whether he begins a rehab assignment or throws BP again.

When he does eventually begin a rehab assignment, Walker will essentially need a full spring training's worth of starts.

"If he's throwing two innings out here tomorrow in a BP session, then if he goes out on a rehab assignment, we wouldn't put him to three," manager Rob Thomson said prior to Friday's series opener. "We'd start him probably at two innings and then you've got to build one inning at a time, get his pitch count up while you can, you might as well get it up to max while you've got some time."

Ideally, the Phillies would build Walker up to six innings and 95 pitches. If they build him up gradually from two innings, that could take four or five rehab starts. He'd start every fifth or sixth day, so even if he begins that rehab assignment early next week and makes four starts rather than five, he'd be looking at April 30 at the earliest.

The Phillies like what they have in Spencer Turnbull and were more than pleased with his debut Tuesday night. Turnbull struck out seven over five innings, allowing just one unearned run. It's been one start, but the possibility exists that Turnbull could replicate some or much of Walker's production for a chunk of the season. Walker is in the second year of a four-year, $72 million contract. Turnbull was signed to a one-year, $2 million deal with incentives in February.

Walker's main source of value last season was his ability to eat innings. He pitched a career-high 172⅔ which ranked 34th in the majors. There's an average of about one of these per team, and all those innings matter, even if they aren't ace-quality. From May 21 through August 6 last season, Walker was 10-2 with a 2.74 ERA, holding hitters to a .218 average. There were five short ones. There were persistent first-inning issues and fluctuations in velocity, which were also there in spring training before he felt shoulder pain.

Turnbull has not reached 100 innings since 2019 and the Phillies aren't going to push him too far, but he's already providing meaningful rotation depth. The Phils piggybacked him in his first start with Ricardo Pinto, who pitched the final four innings for a save. It wouldn't be surprising to see them try the same thing if the game allows for it the next time the No. 5 spot comes up Monday in St. Louis.

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