While talking up Rickey Henderson’s ability to read pitchers better than other base stealers and reach full speed in just one stride, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s The Sports Junkies on Wednesday that in a race he thought Trea Turner, "would probably be as fast as Rickey Henderson."
Asked how Turner compared to Billy Hamilton, widely considered the fastest runner in the game right now, Rizzo said, "they're both elite runners and Billy is an -- we grade them 20-to-80 — and they're both 80s."
In an effort to find a position he could play in the majors, with Danny Espinosa on a hot streak last month and Daniel Murphy tearing up opposing pitchers, the Nats tried Turner out in the outfield in the minors and this week he played center for the first time in the majors.
Turner tracked down a few fly balls in his MLB debut in the outfield in Cleveland’s Progressive Field, missed one diving play late in the game, but generally acquitted himself well considering his limited time playing the position.
At the plate, he was 1 for 4 with a walk, a run scored and a stolen base.
"He was good," Dusty Baker told reporters after penciling Turner in in center for the first time. "He was real good. He covered some ground. He'll get better and better."
Rizzo talked to The Sports Junkies about the decision to move the potential shortstop of the future to the outfield.
"I think we put him out there in the minor leagues to give him more versatility so he could play and so we could get his bat in the lineup and that type of thing. He played well out there for not knowing the park, first of all. Even veteran outfielders, first time in to a new ballpark is a learning experience. So he's learning not only the position, but the position at new parks and that type of thing. He made a couple of nice running plays yesterday, he had some good at bats and brought us some energy, stole a base and kind of ran wild on the field, set the table for us a couple times and did everything we wanted him to do."
With Jayson Werth DHing as the Nationals battled the AL’s Indians, Turner started in center in both Interleague games and on Wednesday afternoon paced the Nationals’ offense, going 3 for 4 with two doubles and three RBIs in Washington’s 4-1 win.
Stephen Strasburg, who earned his 14th win of the season with a seven-inning effort in which he allowed just three hits and no runs, talked afterwards about the impact the Nationals’ top infield prospect had in the win.
"As you can see, with his speed, he changes the game," Strasburg said. "Changes how the defense plays out there when he's on the basepaths. So, he's impacting the game in a lot of ways and he's fun to watch."
"I tell you, what a game Trea Turner had," Baker told reporters after the Nationals split the two-game set in Ohio.
"It's been happening against us, a couple hitters on the other team drove in all the runs like [Matt] Kemp and [Justin] Turner. This time it was Trea 3 and the Indians 1."
Baker said he isn’t surprised about the impact Turner has had when he’s in the lineup and hitting atop it, noting that there was a different feel with Turner leading off.
"It feels different because he's getting on and he creates some havoc with his speed," Baker said.
"I was told, like I said, by Delino DeShields, that he was an impact player and so he's made his impact felt in the short period of time that he's been here."
Turner’s first hit of the game on Wednesday was a double, and he was 2 for 2 after a two-out, two-run single to left in the second that put the Nationals up early in a long second by Indians’ starter Carlos Carrasco.
Baker, who’s lamented the lack of two-out RBI hits in recent weeks, said the single, which put the Nationals up 2-0, was just what the Nats needed.
"That's what we needed. Cause you check the runners in scoring position and we're not doing very well with runners and two outs in scoring position which is what the big boys, that's their job to do, so I'm always conscious of stats, but I mean, here's a guy that, especially with a runner on third if he puts the ball in play-- which sometimes he's prone to strike out on bad pitches, but he'll learn that, hopefully in a hurry -- and with a runner on third, he's very capable of getting an infield hit and getting an RBI to boot."
Turner’s 3 for 4 day at the plate left him 15 for 47 (.319/.360/.511) with three doubles, three triples, two walks, 15 Ks and five stolen bases in 12 games in the majors so far this season.
So what do the Nationals do when they don’t have the DH spot available tonight?
Does Turner stay in the outfield? Does he move to short?
Danny Espinosa, whose .309/.418/.704 June was impressive, has a .182/.259/.338 line with four walks and 33 Ks in his last 86 PAs and a .222/.320/.423 line on the year after he finished the series in Cleveland in the midst of a 2 for 34 slump in which he’s collected 16 strikeouts.
Does Turner replace the struggling Ben Revere in center? Espinosa at short? Does he start in the series opener with the San Francisco Giants tonight in AT&T Park?
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