Turner, adjusting to new role, picks up first hit

By Andrew Simon

WASHINGTON — Trea Turner had some conflicting feelings after he crossed first base in the bottom of the seventh inning on Thursday night at Nationals Park. The rookie infielder had just beaten out a slow ground ball to second base for what potentially was his Major League hit — pending the decision of the official scorer.

“I thought I was out. Then I was hoping they gave me an error a little bit, but then I was hoping for the hit,” he said. “Obviously, your first one, you want it to be special or legit, whatever you want to call it, a line drive somewhere, a base hit. I was hoping for both sides a little bit, but obviously it’s nice to get that out of the way … I’ll take it.”

After a long pause, the scorer made his decision: single. It may have been a generous call, given that Braves second baseman Jace Peterson double-clutched before throwing to first baseman Nick Swisher, who dropped the ball. But Turner, running at a blazing top speed of 21.187 mph, according to Statcast, forced the issue.  

And while the hit might not have been pretty, Turner wasn’t going to complain, almost two weeks after his debut, and in his 10th career at-bat. The ball sat in his locker, though Turner planned to give it to his parents for safe keeping.

“You take what’s given to you and can’t complain with any bloop hits, because you’re going to line out a lot,” Turner said. “That’s what I figured out in Triple-A a little bit. I think I started out 0-for-15 or 0-for-18 or something, hit a few line drives, hit a few soft ones and just had those fall in. So when you get a hit, you just take it.”

Indeed, Turner generally been a slow starter. He went 0-for-10 in his first three games for the Padres’ Double-A San Antonio affiliate to begin the year. After a brief stint at Double-A Harrisburg following his move to the Nats organization, he climbed to Triple-A Syracuse and went 0-for-17 over his first five games. He still ended up batting better than .300 at all three of those stops. 

Since getting called up on Aug. 21, Turner had been 0-for-9, though he arguably should have had an infield single in his debut on another close play at first. But this is a different challenge for the 22-year-old top prospect, not only because it’s the big leagues, but also because he is having to adjust to coming off the bench. All eight of his appearances have come as a pinch-hitter, pinch-runner or defensive replacement.

“I’ve been seeing it good, I just feel like I haven’t always been on time with the pitches and haven’t got in a rhythm like I would normally getting four or five at-bats every day,” Turner said. “So it’s tough, but you’ve got to battle.”

He’s been leaning on another rookie, albeit a much older one, in Clint Robinson. Like Turner, Robinson has been forced to adapt to a bench roles for much of this season, racking up 39 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter.

“He hangs out with me in the dugout a little bit and has been asking questions, kind of picking my brain a little bit about what I’ve learned this year,” Robinson said. “He knows I’m new to it just like he is. But I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him. He’s going to be a good player for a long time.”

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