NEW YORK - In the top of the seventh Friday night at Citi Field, Trea Turner grounded out softly to pitcher Steven Matz, who threw to first base to record the second out of the inning.
Earlier in the at-bat, Turner attempted to bunt until the count got to two strikes. It was a rare play that had Turner bunting. The Nationals usually use power to score runs (106 homers and counting as of Saturday afternoon). They are a club that doesn’t rely on small ball as much as other teams might need to.
The bunt play didn’t work out Friday night. But that doesn’t mean Turner won’t stop working to get better at bunting.
Turner said bunting is a difficult art to master because there are so many factors that go into executing a bunt properly. And when you do execute the bunt, even with his speed, there’s no guarantee he will make it to first before an infielder makes a play.
One of the first elements is what type of pitches he faces in the at-bat: Is the pitcher a sinker-ball pitcher? What kind of breaking pitches does the pitcher employ?
“I think different guys have different challenges,” Turner said. “Same thing with hitting. A guy who throws a sinker is going to be different to bunt than a guy who throws four-seam or breaking ball, whatever it is. You just got to get in there and battle.
“Most of the time those are really big situations, so its magnified and you need to get down. I think it’s just a matter of committing to it and really buying into it.”
Turner works on bunting during batting practice. He said he got some good pointers in spring training from his new teammate.
“Somebody who’s really good at it is Adam Eaton,” Turner said. “We practiced a little bit in spring training. He deadened the ball really well. I think it’s a skill.”
Eaton gave him advice that helped him with technique. But Turner knows that left-handed hitters might have a bit of an advantage versus right-handers when laying down a bunt.
“You know it’s a little different I think from lefty and righty,” he said. “I think it’s a little bit easier to deaden it as a left-handed (batter) because you’re kind of running towards first base so it’s actually sliding towards the end. Whereas a right-hander, if you start moving towards first base, it actually slides to your barrel more.
“That’s getting into the real fine, particular skill set. But I think there are righties that can do it. It’s just a matter of practicing it. It’s something I need to work on.”
Of course, the Nationals don’t bunt that much as a team, so those moments when Turner is called upon to bunt are few. When the situation presents itself, he still must be ready. Batting practice is the best time for Turner to repeat and hone his bunt play.
“Yeah, I would have to say it’s something that looks really simple but it can be a little bit more difficult than you think,” Turner said. “I think practice helps for sure. I haven’t done it a lot. We haven’t done it a lot. But that’s why you need to be ready for it when it’s asked of you, need to be ready to execute.”
Turner took us inside the batter’s box and described what he is looking for when he attempts to bunt.
“You adjust a little bit when you learn when you are a kid,” Turner said. “For the most part, it’s just a matter of getting in there. If you are kind of out of the strike zone or away from the strike zone, it can be a lot more difficult to bunt. Whereas if you just get your eyes behind the bat, it can be a little bit easier. I think that’s the main thing I learned is get in there and make sure you’re seeing it. Don’t be timid about it.
“Even though you may have perfect technique, it’s not always going to happen. But I think the more you practice the better you get at it.”
One facet of the perfect bunt is deadening the ball a bit by slightly moving the bat back at the point of contact.
“I think that’s the one thing I have trouble with in bunting in general is when I go to bunt I feel like I put the barrel on the ball and I don’t deaden it, even bunting for hits or whatever it may be,” Turner said. “I think the best bunters really get it towards the end of the bat and have that soft feel so they can deaden it really well.”
Programming Note: Check out and call in for “Nats Insider” Special Edition live from Citi Field Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET on 106.7 The Fan. MLB.com’s Bill Ladson will be a live guest and you can hear the audio version of this interview with Turner on bunting.