Trea Turner took a pitch off his right index finger just four games into the 2019 campaign, but returned to the lineup six weeks later, and played out the regular season with a finger which wasn’t completely functional.
Turner, 26, still managed to put up a solid .298/.353/.497 line with 37 doubles, five triples, and 19 homers in 122 games and 569 plate appearances overall, and the infielder put up a .233/.291/.329 line, four doubles, and one home run for the Nationals over the course of Washington’s run to the World Series championship.
Now that it’s all over, and there’s no strategic advantage to keeping the extent of the issue with his finger to himself, how bad was it really?
“Playing-wise, I don’t know,” Turner said when he spoke to reporters at the Nats’ WinterFest celebration this past weekend.
“I made some throwing errors obviously here and there but I never felt like it was my finger, and offensively, even when I was struggling I never felt like it was my finger, because I would take a good swing or do something well, and then it was just a matter of repeating it, so never wanted to make an excuse, I thought I could compete with how it was.”
He was, however, getting by on and off the field with nine functional fingers, and it was a bit of a problem at times.
“It was more so off the field,” Turner explained.
“Like I couldn’t open a bottle of Coke, or I couldn’t do things, or whatever, which was kind of annoying, but now, like I said, it’s significantly better.
“The baseball in general is going to be the same, but being able to fist-bump somebody again and just do stupid things like that is going to be nice.”
Turner underwent surgery earlier this winter to fix the finger once and for all, and he said he is now back to swinging and living life with ten working digits.
“Yes. I’ve started hitting, can hit with ten fingers, it feels good, so I said earlier, I think it’s — we’ll see how I play. I might go back to nine if I don’t like it, because I felt like last year went pretty good, but definitely in a much better spot than last year.”
Turner couldn’t actually bend the finger before the surgery, however, which is why he made the decision to explore surgical options once the season came to an end, eventually finding Dr. Michelle Carlson, who performed the procedure after carefully assessing what the issue really was.
“I went and saw a specialist in New York,” he explained, “and I did the MRI, the CT scan, the X-ray and everything, and it wasn’t until she actually 3D-printed my bone that she found out that there was a bone spur in the middle of my knuckle. She couldn’t really see it. And then once she 3D-printed my bone she realized it was there, and she went back and she found it, so if I never had my bone 3D-printed, I don’t know if we would be talking about it like this, so I’m glad I went to her. I think she did a great job of using new technologies to kind of get a total picture, and so I would never have known if I was having that surgery in the season if that makes sense.”
Playing with the injury, Turner said, it wasn’t really too bad, in terms of check swings, or his attempts to hold up, but foul balls, and throwing were the biggest problems.
“It was more so getting the ball off the end of the bat,” he said.
“Like a bad contact never felt very good, and so I think that was more so what the problem would be, when I wasn’t in a perfect situation, how did I deal with it and bounce back, and there were a couple times throughout the year where I didn’t feel very good.
“I think I had a dive in Chicago and my finger kind of got caught in the grass and it hurt pretty bad, but we figured it out.”
And the throwing errors? Ryan Zimmerman joked after Game 7 of the World Series that the shortstop would occasionally throw some cutters over to first base because of how he had to grip the ball.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Turner said.
“I mean, if you think about it, you actually don’t really have to bend your finger very much to throw, so once you grip the ball it’s not too bad. I think you felt it more hitting-wise than you did throwing.
“Throwing I didn’t think it bothered me, but like I said, I made some throwing errors, so I’m hoping it was my finger, so this year there will be fewer of those.”
At what point after the surgery did he first realize that he had all ten fingers working again?
Actually, he said, it was during the procedure.
“They actually woke me up in surgery to make sure I could use my finger and whatnot,” he explained.
“So I kind of knew then that I immediately had more range of motion, so it was very quickly, but I think it’s just any better would have been much better in my mind, because I couldn’t move it at all, really.”
With his finger working, and a deal for 2020 that will pay Turner $7.5M (up from $3.725M in 2019), the five-year veteran is ready to get going as the Nationals try to defend their World Series championship.
“I’m glad we came to a deal,” Turner said after he and the club avoided arbitration, “... and excited to put that behind us and [I] can focus on baseball now and we’re here at [WinterFest], have a good time and then Spring Training will be pretty soon, so got to get ready.”