Detroit Tigers considering six-man rotation, not ready to make Gregory Soto the closer

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Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
·5 min read
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Detroit Tigers right-hander Spencer Turnbull has taken the next step in his return from COVID-19, as the organization transferred him Thursday from its spring training complex in Lakeland, Florida, to the alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio.

Turnbull, 28, is expected to pitch in a simulated game or an intrasquad game this weekend at Fifth Third Field. While in Lakeland, he tossed a three-inning simulated game and multiple bullpen sessions to build up his stamina.

"He's moving into the next phase of his rehab, so to speak, and we'll continue to assess how he's doing, when he fits in and where he fits in," manager AJ Hinch said Friday. "Right now, it's just getting him to the better competition and more game-like stuff."

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Detroit Tigers pitcher Spencer Turnbull walks off the field during spring training Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, on the Tiger Town practice fields in Lakeland, Florida.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Spencer Turnbull walks off the field during spring training Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, on the Tiger Town practice fields in Lakeland, Florida.

Once Turnbull returns, he will join a starting rotation featuring right-handers Julio Teheran, Jose Urena and Casey Mize and lefties Matthew Boyd and Tarik Skubal. At that point, the Tigers will need to figure out how to manage six starters.

A six-man rotation seems to be the most logical option, and it's something general manager Al Avila hinted at this offseason. But Hinch said there are other scenarios, as well.

"We could consider a six-man when he comes back," Hinch said. "Or maybe something happens between now and then that we're not anticipating, and we have to make a difference decision. So we're not committing to anything."

Not yet, Soto

Hinch has called on left-handed reliever Gregory Soto out of the bullpen for some of the most crucial moments early in the season, and the 26-year-old — for the most part — has delivered. Still, Hinch isn't ready to give Soto the esteemed closer role.

"I'm not ready to name an official title, and I may never be able to," Hinch said. "I mean, I will eventually, probably so you guys stop asking the question."

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Tigers pitcher Gregory Soto, center, takes the field during practice on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Comerica Park, a day before Opening Day against the Cleveland Indians.
Tigers pitcher Gregory Soto, center, takes the field during practice on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Comerica Park, a day before Opening Day against the Cleveland Indians.

In three appearances, Soto has allowed two runs on four hits and two walks, picking up four strikeouts, in four innings. He earned a save on Opening Day (when he allowed the two runs on a home run with a 3-0 lead) and pitched the ninth and 10th innings in a 4-3 win Tuesday.

This spring, Soto registered a 2.70 ERA, four walks and 10 strikeouts in 6⅔ innings across seven games. He had a 4.30 ERA with 13 walks and 29 strikeouts over 23 innings during the 2020 campaign.

[ Tigers flamethrower Gregory Soto is chasing closer role with 'elite stuff' ]

If the Tigers need a closer for Friday's three-game series opener against Cleveland at Progressive Field, Hinch could turn to Soto. "He might close tonight's game," he said. "He could potentially pitch the ninth inning tonight, sure."

'A second Opening Day'

Pitching coach Chris Fetter returned for Friday's game against Cleveland after missing the first two series of the season with COVID-19. Two days before the Tigers left spring training, the 35-year-old tested positive for the virus.

He has since cleared protocols to rejoin the team.

"It's nice to have him back," Hinch said. "It's a second Opening Day for us, and we're going to celebrate that with him today. He flew on the team plane with us, so that was his first trip and then had his first day. He's anxious to be in the trenches."

Not only did Friday serve as a season debut for Fetter, but it was also his career debut as a coach in the major leagues. The Tigers hired Fetter away from his role as pitching coach at Michigan in early November, one week after Hinch became manager.

"It's different having our full group together for the first time," Hinch said. "Pitchers are really happy he's here. They all did their work early with him, and then we'll get his first game under his belt."

First taxi squad

For the 10-game road trip, the Tigers announced their first taxi squad this season: right-handers Kyle Funkhouser, Alex Lange and Erasmo Ramirez, first baseman Renato Nunez and catcher Dustin Garneau.

"We're going to fill out our taxi squad with some areas that we see as potential fits on this road trip," Hinch said. "I mean, obviously, if something happens, then we have reinforcements. It doesn't marry us to just taking guys off the taxi squad if something happens. We may call up somebody different. But this is a group we wanted to go with for the three series we have."

Each team can carry up to five players — one must be a catcher — from the alternate training site for road games.

If a player from the taxi squad plays in a game, it does not count against MLB service time. Also, taxi squad members do not get paid a major-league salary, even if they get into games. They are still paid their minor-league salary.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers considering six starters when Spencer Turnbull returns