July 20 might be the most interesting date left on the schedule for the Detroit Tigers. Not because it’s a home contest against the Oakland Athletics, though the return of Scott Sizemore will be an intriguing storyline. No, the interesting part will be the starting pitcher for the Tigers that night; a man who’s identity right now is known only by the initials TBA (to be announced).
When left hander Charlie Furbush was demoted to Toledo following a horrific start on Saturday, it was done in large part because the club wouldn’t need a fifth starter until that date, July 20. Sending Furbush out would allow the club to carry an extra hitter for a while instead of having a starting pitcher taking up a roster spot. Furbush could go make a start in Toledo to stay on schedule.
But Tiger manager Jim Leyland was anything but assuring that Furbush would be coming back up to make that start against the A’s. “We’ll play it by ear,” he told FSD’s Trevor Thompson after Saturday night’s loss. When Thompson pressed again about whether or not Furbush would be coming back at that time, Leyland growled “I jut told you, we’ll play it by ear.”
When Leyland made the decision to move Phil Coke out of the starting rotation and into the bullpen, he did it because he felt certain that Coke wasn’t the answer he needed in that spot. Furbush was inserted and given first shot at holding down the role, but he has done nothing to show that he’s the answer, either. If Furbush goes to Toledo and turns in a great start this week, he may get the call for another audition with the Tigers, but that feels like a long shot at this point.
It’s no secret that the Tigers are working the phones, trying to build a trade for a quality starting pitcher, but if nothing materializes prior to July 20, they’ll need to bring someone up from the minor leagues to make at least one turn through the rotation. That someone could be southpaw Andy Oliver, who made two starts for the Tigers earlier this year and seven over the past two years, but Oliver has struggled mightily since being sent back down.
As much as they might not want to do it, with the divisional race as tight as ever, right hander Jacob Turner might just be the next guy in line.
Just two months removed from his twentieth birthday, Turner is rated at Baseball America’s eleventh-best prospect in all of baseball. He appeared in the Futures Game last night, inducing a pair of pop-ups in his nine pitches of work. This season, pitching at Double-A Erie (an advanced assignment for his age), Turner has been impressive, sporting a 3.49 ERA and 1.162 WHIP over 100.2 innings. He’s kept his walk totals low, averaging 2.6/9 innings, while fanning 7.1/9. His next appearance will come at the Eastern League All-Star game this week.
Let me be clear that I don’t think that Turner should be counted upon to step in to the big league rotation and stay the for the rest of the season. At his tender age, the Tigers would be fools to push his innings total as high as they would surely get with such a task and keeping his workload in check needs to be a top priority for an arm such as his. They can keep better watch of that workload in the minor leagues.
Turner is, in all likelihood, going to be counted upon as a member of the Tigers rotation for many years and that assignment will probably start by making the club out of Spring Training next season. But just as they did with Justin Verlander in 2005, the Tigers could bring him up for a start or two this month to get his feet wet before sending him back down to complete the minor league season.
If that plan of attack buys GM Dave Dombrowski a bit more time to put together a deal for a starting pitcher to help this year’s club make a push down the stretch, it’s one I would support.
We have learned that Coke is a better fit for the bullpen. Neither Furbush nor Oliver seized their opportunities to stabilize the rotation. A veteran presence is clearly needed for the stretch run. But in the meantime, maybe this is the right date, July 20, for the Tigers and their fans to catch a glimpse of the future of the Tigers rotation, even if only for one start.