GLENDALE, Ariz. – Spring is about new life, turning a page, regeneration. This one couldn’t come soon enough for former Cub Jacob Turner, a former first-round draft pick who is eager to rejuvenate his career after missing the entire 2015 season due to an elbow injury.
“I’m just excited to be competing again, honestly,’’ Turner said the day before he pitched two scoreless innings in his start against the Cleveland Indians in the Sox’ second Cactus League game of the spring Friday. “Last year was disappointing. When you can’t pitch a whole year you realize how much you miss the game. I just miss competing. I’m looking forward to getting out there and showing what I can do.’’
Before the Sox traded for Mat Latos, it was believed Turner would compete this spring with Erik Johnson for a spot in the rotation. Because of his track record, Latos seems to have the edge toward landing a place with Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon and John Danks, but he also has health issues in his recent past to navigate.
Turner, meanwhile, is out of minor league options and would have to make the 25-man roster to avoid being exposed to waivers. The Sox claimed Turner off waivers last fall from the Cubs, who carried him on the 60-day disabled list for most of 2015. He was non-tendered and signed to a $1.5 million contract.
“This is a spot I can come in and show what I can do and kind of go from there,’’ said Turner, feeling healthy again after strained flexor tendon and shoulder issues.
“All anyone in this locker room is looking for is an opportunity. You have to take advantage of it.’’
Turner’s first outing wasn’t bad. He pitched two scoreless innings, striking out two batters and walking one. After he momentarily lost his command, throwing six consecutive balls, he gathered himself and fanned Robbie Grossman and Zach Walters for the second and third outs of the second inning.
“Yeah, it was just good to get back out there,” he said. “It has been a while and to go back out there, even if I’ve done it a couple of times before, definitely felt a little bit weird. But it was just fun to be back competing.”
Turner, 24, said when he woke up Friday morning he wished gametime was 10 a.m., not 1 p.m. His velocity reached 94 mph.
“The last sideline he had, we challenged him and he passed it all,” pitching coach Don Cooper said before the game.
Manager Robin Ventura said Turner’s stuff had “life” and that he liked his composure.
“He can work himself into a spot in the rotation,” Ventura said. “There’s some jobs to be earned. Nothing is going to be given to anybody in that spot.”
Turner owns an 11-25 record with a 4.97 ERA over 299 major-league innings in Detroit (2011-12), Miami (2013-14) and the Cubs (2014). It’s early but Turner has looked good so far throwing on the side.
He was in the mix for a rotation spot with the Cubs last spring, pitched two scoreless innings in the their Cactus League opener against the Giants and then got hurt. After two rehab assignments, Turner had elbow surgery, a humbling experience for the 2009 No. 9 overall pick who received a $4.7 million signing bonus from the Detroit Tigers.
“Yeah, it is,’’ Turner said. “Watching the game on TV watching guys all season you want to be competing with was hard. It was definitely challenging mentally especially coming on the field in Arizona every day when your buddies and teammates are in Chicago. It was tough.’’
Turner said the Cubs treated him well, showing patience when he got hurt and providing good care through the rehab process.
And now a chance on the other side of town.
“I’m just happy to be healthy and pitching again,’’ he said.
As good as the Sox’ record of keeping starters healthy has been, general manager Rick Hahn knows there’s never enough depth. Hence, the signing of Turner.
“As for Johnson or [Jacob] Turner or any members of our rotation in Chicago or potentially Charlotte, we’re not naïve enough to think we’ll have five guys make 32 starts,’’ Hahn said. “We fully expect Erik and possibly Jacob and others in this camp to contribute in a meaningful way.’’
These are turning-point times in Turner’s life. Not only is he trying to get his career path on a positive track, he and his wife became parents for the first time five months ago.
“Baby girl,’’ he said. “It’s been life changing, a different experience. It definitely puts life in a different perspective.”