WASHINGTON — There’s no question that the hottest hitter on the Washington Nationals roster over the last couple months has been rookie center fielder Trea Turner.
Turner has played in 73 games this season for the Nats, hitting .342 with 13 home runs and 40 runs batted in. Perhaps the most impressive stat is that he has stolen 33 bases. These numbers led to Rookie Player of the Month honors for August and September.
Turner has solidified himself at the top of the Nationals order, leading off and playing center field.
“Last year was difficult because I had to come off the bench,” he said. “But when you play everyday, it’s more relaxing and I’m used to leading off so putting me in that situation was a little more comforting for me. It gave me the confidence to go out there and do my thing. I’ve had a lot of fun with it.”
Dusty Baker has had the confidence in him to keep writing his name down everyday in the lineup and General Manager Mike Rizzo always thought that this was the player they were getting from the Padres.
“We traded for him for a reason,” Rizzo said. “We really liked him. We’ve developed him fairly quickly but very well in our minor league system. He’s come up here with a great attitude and willingness to learn, and obviously, a skill set that plays up here.”
Turner has had success at age 23 — does any of it surprise him?
“I’ve always thought I would succeed from putting in the work,” he said. “I just didn’t know how much or how fast. All those questions are still to be answered. But I think that putting in the work, and having confidence and competing — I think that only produces positive results. I’m not necessarily surprised, but it’s been nice to get up here and get an opportunity to perform.”
They now get a chance to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of the National League West. A team that won 91 games sends their ace Clayton Kershaw to the mound in Game 1 and he will be opposed by the Nationals 20-game winner Max Scherzer.
As for Turner, who will be the first National to step in the batters box to face Kershaw in the bottom of the first: “I expect a tough at-bat. He’s always been great for the last however many years. He’s been on top of his game and on top of the league in pitching. I expect a battle and hope that we can come out on top.”
The Nats coasted to the National League Eastern Division title, finishing eight games ahead of the Mets and haven’t played a truly meaningful baseball game in over a month, one with postseason implications.
Stephen Strasburg left his start on Sept. 7 and hasn’t pitched since, All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos went down with a torn ACL, Daniel Murphy has been out of the lineup since Sept. 18 and Bryce Harper missed four games late with a thumb injury. Murphy and Harper are expected to be ready to go, and that will be a big boost to the club and keep those expectations high.
“Everybody expects to win,” Turner said. “Teams have won all year and so have we. We want to go out there and continue playing as long as we can and continue to win. You have to have that thought process and confidence or it’s going to spiral on you pretty fast.”
To participate in the postseason and hopefully win a World Series is every major leaguer’s dream, and something that has played out in Turner’s head.
“You can always imagine it,” Turner said. “But when you get in that situation, it takes over and is a lot different than you can recreate in your head. I felt like that with my debut last year: You can picture it all you want but when you get out there, it’s a lot different. That’s what I think Friday will be.”
The Nats will take the field in front of a packed house on Friday — what does he expect to feel like when he runs out of that dugout?
“I expect to be filled with all sorts of emotions: excitement, little bit of nerves and adrenaline,” Turner said. “The crowd is gonna be pretty crazy and the game is going to be intense. I kinda know what to expect, but you can’t really prepare for the situation until you get there.”
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