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Rob Thomson announces Phillies’ current, somewhat complicated, rotation plans

Cristopher Sanchez and Spencer Turnbull are competing for the last spot in the starting rotation. (Don Otto/Phillies Nation)

“It’s a great problem to have and a tough decision to make.”

Those were the words Philadelphia Phillies manager Rob Thomson used in his office Saturday after to describe the team having six starting pitchers for five rotation spots currently. Thomson teased a decision on the future of Spencer Turnbull in the starting rotation Friday, but Saturday’s update was hardly a declaration of how things are going to be for the foreseeable future.

But here’s what the situation is right now for the Phillies: Cristopher Sánchez is available as a long man on full rest out of the bullpen Saturday evening against the San Francisco Giants. If Sánchez isn’t used in relief Saturday, he’ll start Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

What does that mean for Spencer Turnbull? Turnbull — he of the 1.67 ERA through six starts — will be available out of the bullpen Sunday. If neither he or Sánchez pitches out of the bullpen over the next three games, they could potentially piggyback Tuesday against the Blue Jays.

Whatever happens over the next cycle through the starting rotation — be it Sánchez starts Tuesday, Turnbull starts Tuesday or the pair piggyback — there weren’t any long-term declarations. This could very well be a start-to-start arrangement. If there’s a team with a ton of talented left-handed hitters, Sánchez will probably be on the mound. However, Turnbull might be the answer against a righty-heavy lineup. And there might be stretches without off days where the Phillies utilize six starters again.

What about Taijuan Walker? Was taking him out of the rotation ever a consideration?

“Not for me,” Thomson said.

Why not?

“Because he got 15 wins last year,” Thomson said before Howard Eskin interjected.

“A lot runs,” Eskin said.

“OK, a lot of wins,” Thomson replied.

The reality here is that Walker is in the second season of a four-year/$72 million deal. Pro sports are not always a meritocracy. Walker did win 15 games a year ago, logging 172 2/3 innings. He also didn’t throw a single pitch in the postseason, after posting a 7.04 ERA in the first inning. Thomson knows the limitations the 2023 version of Walker has. So does president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. They also know the size of check that manager partner John Middleton is writing Walker not only in 2024, but for 2025 and 2026 as well.

Turnbull also hasn’t pitched more than 56 2/3 innings at the MLB level since 2019. The 32 1/3 innings he’s thrown this season are already more than the 31 innings he pitched for the Detroit Tigers a year ago, although he did throw another 26 in the minors. Still, there’s something to be said for saving some bullets for the veteran of Tommy John surgery, particularly when you know there will probably be injuries later in the season and that the Phillies will probably be playing in the postseason.

Sánchez has had some issues fielding his position and holding runners on, but has a 3.50 ERA and 3.75 FIP since the start of the 2023 season. He’s 27 years old and won’t even become eligible for arbitration until 2026. The Phillies have a vested short and long-term interest in developing Sánchez — who is out of minor-league options — as a starting pitcher.

For the time being, the Phillies are going to do their best to keep both Turnbull and Sánchez stretched out. At some point this season, whether it’s because of an injury or underperformance, what now appears to be an issue will probably take care of itself.

And if not, it probably means that the Phillies — who will enter play Saturday with an MLB-best 22 wins — have continued to perform at an elite level.


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