It has been six years since Jacob Turner donned a Toledo Mud Hens uniform — and a lot has changed in that time.
When Turner first pitched for the Mud Hens in 2011, he was a 20-year-old uber-prospect the Detroit Tigers had selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2009 draft. At that time he was considered the organization’s top prospect, and he was expected to become a linchpin in the big-league rotation for years to come.
Then came the 2012 trade that sent Turner, who made 10 starts for Toledo that season, and two other players to Miami for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez. Turner pitched for the Marlins in 2012-14, but since also has pitched for the Chicago Cubs, then moved across the city to the White Sox before making 18 appearances with Washington last season.
Turner began this year with the Marlins, but a disastrous outing in Philadelphia caused the team to demote the now 28-year-old right-hander to Triple-A New Orleans. He had a win and a save for the Baby Cakes, not to mention a 2.51 ERA, in his first seven appearances before disaster struck again — 13 hits and 10 earned runs in just 7⅓ innings, causing Turner to be released June 1.
Now, Turner is back with the Mud Hens after signing with the Tigers as a free agent. After pitching almost exclusively in relief for Miami this season, he has been inserted into Toledo’s rotation and threw three scoreless innings in a start Monday at Indianapolis.
The Blade: It’s been a long time since you pitched for the Mud Hens. What was your reaction to coming back to Fifth Third Field and putting on a Toledo uniform?
Jacob Turner: “I’m excited to be back. There are a lot of people still in the organization, especially on the coaching and training side, that I know. From that aspect, there’s a bit of a comfort zone. Toledo always has been a great place to play Triple-A baseball, so I can’t complain about that.”
What led you to sign with the Tigers?
“I felt there was an opportunity here. There’s an opportunity to pitch consistently. There’s an opportunity, in the near term, to help this team win. In the future term, hopefully I’ll pitch well enough to get an opportunity in the big leagues.”
You began this season with Miami on the Opening Day roster. In your view, how did this season start?
“I pitched well in the spring and made the team, but unfortunately it didn’t work out as I would have hoped once I made the team. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
Judging strictly by the numbers, things seemed to be going OK until there was a bad outing that ruined the numbers. Do you have a sense of what happened in that last outing?
“Sometimes it’s just being inconsistent on the mound. Sometimes it’s making a bad pitch, then having things snowball. I’m just excited to be here and help this team win.”
You mentioned that you began your career with the Tigers and spent time in Toledo before you were traded to Miami in 2012. What was it like to be traded, considering the consensus at that time was that you were Detroit’s top prospect?
“It was a surprise because you never expect to be traded unless you’ve been in [the] game for some time and can see the end coming. But at the same time, it’s part of baseball. It helped me understand the business side of the game pretty quickly. It was a decision the Tigers made, and I moved on from there.”
How would you sum up your career in the time since you left Detroit?
“It’s been a journey, it’s been my journey. I’ve bounced around to a couple of different organizations, and I’ve been fortunate to get to the big leagues with each of those organizations. When I look back at each year, I try to see what I learned from it, what I got better at — and what I can build on from there.
“My time in Miami was up and down: There were times when I had success, and times when I had too much failure. But overall it was a good experience in Miami.”
Early in your career you were strictly a starter, but in recent seasons you also have been used in the bullpen. What is it like to transition from being a starter to working as a reliever?
“Starting and relievers are drastically different, even though you’re doing the same thing on the mound. Just the routine, the day-to-day, is drastically different. I’ve started more than I have relieved during my career, so I have a better understanding of what it takes to be ready to go every five days and throw 100 pitches going through a lineup three times. But pitching out of the bullpen this season gave me some experience, a chance to learn what my routine is and what allows me to be successful when I’m in that role.”
Do you feel you have a handle on what that routine is as a reliever?
“I think that routine is always a moving target. It depends on how your arm feels, how your body feels, and if you’re trying to work on something specific or trying to maintain a groove that you’re in. I feel, over the course of the year, that it’s something you can learn. You may not understand that when you first come into baseball, what a routine really means.”
Fans of a Triple-A team understand that the goal of players is to get to the major leagues. But how does winning in Triple-A help reach that goal?
“If you’re winning in Triple-A, that means you’re playing well. If you focus on competing and winning — on being present in the moment at the level you are at — that can lead to nothing but good things. And that goes for individuals, but it also goes for the team and even for an entire organization. I understand that the focus of minor-league baseball is on development. But winning takes care of a lot of ills.”
That makes sense. But it’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
“It takes a collective effort to have success. There are a lot of guys on this team in Toledo who have been in professional baseball for a long time, so we realize that if we come to the field every day and compete, it gives you a better team focus. And that in turn helps everybody’s individual performance because everybody is pulling together to try and get better — and win.”
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