Turner's 2012 debut pits him against mentor

Turner's 2012 debut pits him against mentor

Turner's 2012 debut pits him against mentor
DETROIT -- Mike Matheny is in his first season managing in Major Leagues. Along the way to the opportunity, though, he managed to help Jacob Turner find his way to the Majors.

Come Thursday afternoon, when the 21-year-old Turner takes the mound at Comerica Park for his first start for the Tigers this season and his fourth start of his big league career, he'll see Matheny's familiar face watching him from the visiting dugout. It won't be the first time Matheny has seen him pitch. It'll be the rare time that Matheny can't root for him.

"I'm a fan of Jacob," Matheny said Tuesday. "I am a fan of the young man he is, and have always admired how he went about it. As a high school kid, you could see that 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 brothers -- just a good family. Then you start adding in the baseball talent to go along with it, and he's a special kid. He's got a lot of exciting things ahead of him if he just keeps working and keeps his head like it always has been."

  • 142 wins
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When Turner -- ranked No. 1 in the Tigers' system by MLB.com -- was building his name as one of the best high school pitchers in the country three years ago at Westminster Academy in St. Louis, Matheny was part of the program. His son, Tate, was a freshman catcher there when Turner was a senior, and Matheny helped Turner with guidance on his way into that spring's First-Year Player Draft, where the Tigers selected him in the first round.

"He's helped me out a lot," Turner said, "probably more the transition from high school to pro ball. He kind of helped give me an idea of what I needed to expect coming into pro ball, what Spring Training would be like and instructional league, stuff like that. Obviously it's a big transition from pitching in high school to pitching even in instructional league."

To hear Matheny talk about his former pupil, it wasn't a big transition for him at all. Their talks usually took place between starts on the bench, while they were watching the team play.

"He had a lot of people who were in his ear about the mechanical side. I didn't even bother with that," Matheny said. "He was right in the middle of senior year and was being scouted every game with 60-plus scouts at every game. So it wasn't the time to talk about that, but the little things -- the routine in between starts, paying close attention and keeping track, keeping a log of what works and even keeping track of hitters and to start taking that next step in professionalism of just not being a thrower, but being a pitcher -- those are the things we talked about. And life things, too.

"I love spending time with kids who want to learn, and I give them some of the things that they may not expect with this lifestyle."

Turner has always been a student of the game. Maturity beyond his age has been a constant on his way through the Tigers farm system up to Detroit, where he handled his Major League debut last July in stride.

Matheny remembers watching that game. It wasn't a big surprise for him.

"He's a special person," Matheny said. "The maturity level that he had when he left high school was completely different than most kids that you see at that age level. Just how determined and focused he was to make the most of this, he didn't need much help."

Still, Turner never forgot it. He doesn't follow the Cardinals as much as he used to, since he has the Tigers to follow. When Matheny got the job, though, he noticed.

"I was excited when he got the job," Turner said, "because I think he would do a great job and I think he has this year. It's kind of a weird connection, I guess, but at the same time, you can't really worry about that. It's cool, though."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.