DETROIT – When Jacob Turner takes the mound Thursday against his hometown team, someone in the opposing dugout will be watching him with pride.
St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is both a mentor and friend to Turner, a St. Louis native who attended Westminster Christian Academy, the same school Matheny’s son, Tate, attends.
“I’m a fan of Jacob’s,” Matheny said before Tuesday night’s game at Comerica Park. “I’m a fan of the young man that he is. I’ve always admired how he’s gone about it as a high school kid. You could see he was ready for this. I tell his parents, Mark and Amy, all the time that they did a really nice job, not just with Jacob but with his brother Ben, and Luke as well.
“They’re just a good family. And then you start adding in the good baseball talent to go along with it. He’s a special kid. So he’s got a lot of exciting things ahead of him.
Tate Matheny was a freshman when Turner was a senior.
“Mike helped coach the team a little bit,” Turner said. “So I know him pretty well. Obviously my little brother was a senior this year with Tate. I was excited when he got the job because I thought he would do a great job and I think he has this year. That’s kind of a weird connection, I guess. He’s helped me out a lot.”
Turner said Matheny helped him with the transition from high school baseball to professional baseball.
“Kind of helped give me an idea of what I needed to expect coming into pro ball, what spring training would be like, or instructional league, stuff like that,” Turner said. “Obviously it’s a big transition from pitching in high school to pitching even in instructional league.”
Matheny said he appreciated the way Turner would pepper him with questions in between starts and he tried to give him advice on what worked for him as a player.
“It’s a smack in the face, the reality for these kids when they leave playing high school, a pretty easy schedule,” Matheny said, “and then just the grind and the demands, a lot of it’s just the challenges, too, that are out there, some of the pitfalls socially that are there and just kind of talking to him about some of the things that I’ve learned that have helped me try to stay away from some of those struggles.”
Although he’s pretty busy in his first season as a big league manager, Matheny said he periodically sends Turner a text message just to keep in touch.
In general, Matheny downplays his impact on Turner.
“He’s a special person,” Matheny said. “The maturity level he had when he left high school was completely different than most kids you see at that age, just how determined and focused he was to make the most of this. He didn’t need much help.”
Turner was originally one of the top candidates for the Tigers’ fifth starter job, a role that eventually went to Drew Smyly.
Turner had his spring cut short due to right shoulder tendinitis but he has come out of it with no problems.
“Obviously staying healthy is the biggest thing,” Turner said. “My arm is feeling good. That’s been a huge positive ’cause obviously coming out of spring it wasn’t. For it to kind of rebound and start feeling good again was definitely a relief.”
Turner spent some time in Lakeland as he was getting back to full strength and then returned to Toledo.
“I feel like I’ve been throwing well ever since I kind of got healthy and got out of Lakeland,” Turner said. “It’s been going well. I feel like I’m pitching better every time out.”
In his seven starts with the Mud Hens, Turner is 2-1 with a 3.43 ERA.
Last week Turner had an unusual experience – he was opposed by Norfolk pitcher Jamie Moyer. Yes, that Jamie Moyer, who pitched for the Mud Hens in 1992.
“It was cool,” Turner said. “It was weird to see him out there because he’s just been playing for so long. He’s the same age, I think a year younger than my dad. I called my dad and said, ‘I couldn’t imagine you pitching out there.’ It was fun.”
It was probably more fun because Turner and the Mud Hens got the 3-2 win.
“It was cool, though, to see a guy who’s been pitching for so long,” Turner said of the 49-year-old. “To see him – he obviously pitched well against us – and being successful, it’s pretty unbelievable.”
Turner hopes his fourth big league start will be as fun, even if it comes at the expense of the Cardinals, the team he grew up watching.
“You can’t really predict what’s going to happen in this game,” Turner said. “It’s exciting, though. It’s exciting to pitch against the team I grew up rooting for. It’s just kind of a cool experience for me, I guess.”
In addition to Jose Valverde, who has a right wrist sprain, there are a few other Tigers who remain on the 60-day disabled list who are making progress.
Left-hander Daniel Schlereth, who went on the DL April 21 with left shoulder tendinitis, has been doing rehabilitation at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Denver.
“He’s throwing out to 120 feet,” Rand said. “We’re getting close to the point where he’d be ready to resume a mound progression. At that point, we’ll reassess him.”
Rand said when Schlereth is ready, he’d probably go to Lakeland.
Al Alburquerque, who had right elbow surgery in the offseason, is already in Lakeland, throwing. Rand said Alburquerque was scheduled to throw a side session today.