Impressive as he’s been, it is easy to forget that 23-year-old Washington Nationals’ shortstop Trea Turner was still just 167 games into his major league career heading into Thursday afternoon’s series finale with the Chicago Cubs.
The topic or Turner’s experience was raised with Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker before Thurday’s game, because the Nats right-handed hitting infielder was facing left-hander Jon Lester in the fourth game of four with the defending World Series champs in D.C.
Turner put up a .317/.338/.413 against left-handed pitchers over 65 plate appearances in the majors in 2016, but started the finale with a .153/.167/.186 line in 60 PAs vs lefties this season. So what was going on for Turner vs left-handers early in 2017?
“Some right-handed hitters, believe it or not, hit better against right-handers,” Baker explained, and some left-handed hitters, [the Cubs] have a couple over there, hit better against left-handers and the whole matchup thing, it doesn’t always apply.
“For some reason, some guys see the ball better against off right-handers.... I know it was easy for me to hit home runs off right-handers than it was off left-handers, because they split the plate. Usually their ball — they don’t throw anything straight —and then if they come up with a slider then it’s running down and in, and it’s running down and away and most of them throw a changeup, so it’s not surprising.”
Turner rose quickly through the minors, especially after he was acquired by the Nats, so he’s had to make adjustments on the fly in the majors, where he’s facing the best left and right-handers he’s seen so far.
“Especially when you’re younger, cause probably during his whole college career, high school career, whatever it is, the more you see, the more familiar you’re going to be with them,” Baker explained.
“There’s more right-handers in the world than left-handers, so you get used to facing right-handers more than you do left-handers. So, for whatever reason — these are numbers that, again, you guys stay up looking at, but he’ll figure it out.”
Asked what he and the Nationals’ coaches could do to help Turner turn things around against lefties, Baker jokingly said, “I can not play him.”
“You can’t fix everything right away,” he continued. “You can’t do it or all you do is confuse the young man, you know, you try to teach them too much, too soon, you confuse them and then they cease to do what they do best.
“We’re always looking for negative stats or negative things. Can you prove this or that? Some of it improves over time. He is by no means a finished product as a player in his second year. He’s just now become patient, a little more patient this last week.
“Cause he only had like eight or nine walks in 250 at bats, and so I think he probably has five or six this week alone, so you’ve got to take baby steps with these guys, because we’re so full of information and most of it’s negative information that you harm them in the process of trying to help them.”
Turner has drawn seven of his 17 walks on the season in his last ten games and 49 plate appearances before Thursday’s game, after drawing 10 in his first 262 PAs.
Turner’s put up a .357/.449/.381 line in the last ten, taking him from a .265/.297/.427 line to .277/.318/.421 line on the season.
In the first three of four with the Cubs, Turner was 5 for 12 with a double, three walks and five stolen bases heading into the finale.
Turner drew his fourth walk of the series bis first time up against Lester, taking four straight pitches out of the zone after a first-pitch strike, and stole his 34th base of the season one out later on a 3-1 fastball to Bryce Harper, but he was thrown out when he tried to swipe third on a delayed steal on ball four to Harper.
Turner singled the second time up, but was stranded, and after a groundout in his third trip to the plate, he stepped in against Cubs’ reliever Pedro Strop in the seventh and took a 96 mph 2-1 fastball off the right wrist. He stayed in the game, took the field in the top of the eighth, but was replaced in the field in the ninth.
“Trea went in for some X-rays,” Baker told reporters after what ended up a 5-4 loss when the Nationals’ bullpen blew a lead in the ninth.
“It hit him on the wrist, and so I haven’t heard anything yet on the X-rays, so he’ll probably be sore for a couple days.”
Baker was asked if it looked bad.
“There’s no way to tell. When I looked at it, it wasn’t swollen or whatever, so I don’t know if that’s a good sign or bad sign.”
“I had tape on my wrist, so initially it didn’t feel that bad,” Turner told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr.
“But I went out there and tried throwing. It hurt to lob the ball, but it felt fine when I threw it as hard as I could or basically full speed.”
His X-rays revealed a non-displaced fracture in the right wrist that will likely cost him 8-to-10 weeks.
“Yeah, it sucks,” Turner said. “I’m trying to have a good at-bat right there. You wish it hit you in the back or arm or something - not the hand or wrist, which is never fun. I thought about Freddie Freeman earlier in the year, that’s no fun. It is what it is, you have to roll with it.”