The Washington Nationals don’t have many consistent offensive players so far in 2021, so when their most consistent player, Trea Turner, goes hitless for too long, it’s cause for concern.
Turner returned to his customary spot at the top of the lineup in Monday’s series opener in Atlanta after manager Davey Martinez put Juan Soto in the leadoff spot for a game to try to pep up his bat.
But after picking up a pair of hits behind Juan Soto on Sunday, Turner had a frustrating 0-for-5 day, leaving three men on base in a 5-3 loss.
Turner’s current .303/.349/.498 line is certainly nothing for a leadoff hitter to complain about, but manager Davey Martinez told reporters in his post-game Zoom call he’s concerned about Turner’s approach at the plate, especially the conditions that led to four strikeouts against Atlanta.
“He’s chasing. He’s chasing,” said Martinez. “They’re throwing him a lot of breaking balls, and he’s just chasing outside of the zone. He’s got to get the ball back in the zone.”
Turner acknowledged he was not seeing many pitches in the strike zone.
“I got like one pitch to hit in each of my at bats,” he said. “And just fouled it off, missed it, so that happens more often than not if you miss the pitch you need to hit.”
But on each of his four strikeouts Monday, Turner was ahead at least 1-0, but he swung at pitches outside the strike zone in three of them, and twice swung at pitches outside the zone for strike three.
”As we all know, he’s a good hitter, but he’s leading off and he’s got to get the ball in the strike zone,“ Martinez said.
“When that ball is in the strike zone, he’s typically really good,” said Martinez. ‘So he’s just got to get the ball in the strike zone and work counts, 2-0, 2-1, 1-0, it’s a different story.”
Martinez also said Turner and other hitters are getting impatient waiting for fastballs. The Nationals are seeing 11.6% curveballs this season, the third-highest percentage among MLB’s 30 teams.
“He’s got to get the breaking balls up, get them in the strike zone if they’re going to throw him that many, and just be ready to hit the fastball,” said Martinez. “It’s a lot easier to make adjustments to breaking balls as opposed to a fastball.
“He’s a little late on fastballs because I think he’s real conscious about the breaking balls right now.”
Turner said it doesn’t matter what type of pitch he’s getting; he’s thinking about location.
“Just getting something in the middle of the zone as opposed to the edge for me,” he said.
“Today the only pitches in the middle of the zone were the fastballs, so if tomorrow they’re breaking balls I gotta hit the breaking balls.
“Today they were fastballs, and then the pitches on the edge of the zone are tough to hit in general.”
Before the game, Martinez noted the same trend Sunday in Turner’s sixth-inning at-bat against Brandon Woodruff.
“When you’ve got a guy on base, pitchers are taught to go after the hitters the first two pitches. Be ready,” said Martinez.
“Be ready for that fastball he throws you, and we haven’t been hitting those balls. And when we do get them, we’ve been either fouling them off or we have a good swing and we hit them foul. Those are the kind of balls that we’ve got to put in play.”