CLEVELAND - When the Nationals chose to demote Michael A. Taylor to Triple-A Syracuse as the corresponding move for Ryan Zimmerman’s activation off the disabled list, they dropped something of a hint in the process: Trea Turner was going to find his way into the lineup, perhaps in center field.
Sure enough, when he filled out his lineup card for tonight’s interleague series opener against the Indians, Dusty Baker went with the rookie in the leadoff spot and (for the first time in his brief major league career) in the outfield.
“If he’s here, the kid’s going to play some,” Baker said. “We’re trying to find a way for him to play. And according to the sources that have seen him play, they say he’s ready to play center field.”
A natural shortstop who also has a good amount of time spent at second base, Turner had never played the outfield at the prep, college or professional level until the Nationals gave him a six-game audition at Syracuse about a month ago. He’s been getting daily pregame work out there, though, enough to convince the club it was time to give it a shot in an actual game.
“I’m going on what other people in our organization have seen,” Baker said. “But we’ve got to put him out there sooner or later. I’ve seen him out there on a daily basis working. He’s been working and working and working. And generally speaking, if a guy can play shortstop, he can almost play anywhere on the field. So we’ve got our fingers crossed that he plays well tonight.”
The fact the Nationals are playing in an American League park the next two days helped make this possible. With Jayson Werth serving as designated hitter tonight, Baker could slide Ben Revere over to left field and open up center field for Turner. And with nine position players in his lineup, he was able to hit Turner leadoff and Revere ninth.
But Baker won’t have this luxury much longer. The Nationals head back to intraleague play Thursday in San Francisco, at which point the manager will have to make a decision: Keep Turner out there, or go back to the way things were?
“On a daily basis, I’m going to have to play the best lineup that I think gives us a chance to win that day,” Baker said. “And tomorrow, it’ll probably be different.”
Update: It’s been a wild ballgame here so far, and they’ve only played four innings. Both teams scored twice in the first, with the Nationals getting Turner’s leadoff walk and stolen base, an RBI grounder past the third baseman for Daniel Murphy that was ruled an error on Juan Uribe but could be changed to a single and then Werth’s RBI double off the wall in left-center. But handed a 2-0 lead, Gio Gonzalez gave both runs right back during an ugly bottom of the first that included two four-pitch walks and a passed ball in which Gonzalez was slow to cover the plate. U-G-L-Y. Gio has settled down since then, at least in the sense he has not allowed any more runs through the fourth inning. And his teammates have given him the lead back, thanks to Anthony Rendon’s two-run homer in the top of the fourth. Rendon’s 12th of the season has the Nats on top 4-2 after four.
Update II: It’s now 5-2 Nationals after six. Wilson Ramos lofted an opposite-field homer off reliever Jeff Manship in the top of the sixth to expand the lead. Meanwhile, Gonzalez has completely turned his start around. He has retired seven straight and is through the sixth on 96 pitches. We’ll see if he gets to return for the seventh or not.
Update III: Well, now it’s 5-4 Nats after eight, as the Indians chip away. They scored one in the seventh after a double ended Gonzalez’s night and then a single off Blake Treinen brought the run home. Felipe Rivero entered for the eighth and gave up another run after a leadoff double and subsequent single.
Update IV: It happened again. Jonathan Papelbon turned a two-run lead in the ninth into a loss, and the Nats bullpen is now in disarray. Up 6-4 after an insurance run, Papelbon proceeded to blow it and give the Indians a 7-6**** walk-off victory. This one stings, to say the least.