Baker expects flip-flop at top of lineup to be temporary

NEW YORK - Trea Turner is back in the Nationals lineup today, but he’s not back in his traditional spot atop the lineup.

In his first start since injuring his right hamstring April 8, Turner is batting second against the Mets, with Adam Eaton retaining the leadoff job he has held the last two weeks with his teammate on the disabled list.

The Eaton-Turner one-two combo was something Baker tried out in spring training and is something others have suggested should be a permanent alignment, given that it breaks up the Nationals’ run of three consecutive left-handed batters (Eaton, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy).

Baker, though, suggested today’s look will be temporary and is a move designed to protect his hamstring.

Turner-Steals-Second-Gray-Sidebar.jpg“Turner’s a game-changer,” the manager said. “He can create havoc. I’m doing it this time because he hasn’t played. And I’m not really convinced that his leg is 100 percent. I know that there are those that want it like this, but it’s going to limit Trea’s ability to run batting in front of Harp. Because if he steals, they’re just gonna walk him. It’ll help out Murphy, but it won’t help out Harp. So this is for the sake of, it’s better than not having him in the lineup.”

The logic for not batting Turner second: If he steals second base, the opposition will be tempted to intentionally walk Harper, taking the bat out of the hands of the majors’ hottest hitter.

The logic for batting Turner second: Eaton actually does a better job of working the count, draws more walks and is plenty fast himself. And it would provide Turner more opportunities to drive in runs via his multitude of extra-base hits.

Baker, though, has preferred to make the most of Turner’s speed out of the leadoff spot and not tinker with something that worked exceptionally well last season. At the same time, he’s being careful to make sure his second-year star is 100 percent healthy again before letting go of the reins altogether.

Baker doesn’t expect it’ll take long for that to happen.

“He’s only 15; he’ll heal like that,” the manager said, snapping his fingers (and reducing Turner’s age by eight years). “Yeah, just play. And I can tell. I’ll see it if he’s kind of a step and a half, or if he’s not going all-out. You know, especially your first injury, you have to get past the psychological part of being hurt for the first time. Because when you’re that young, most of them never had any leg injuries. And that is a big part of this game. Once he realizes in his mind that he’s no longer hurt, then he’ll be Trea again.”

One other lineup tweak for today’s game: Ryan Zimmerman is batting cleanup, bumping Murphy to the fifth spot. Murphy, who missed Thursday’s game in Atlanta with leg tightness, suddenly finds himself mired in a 1-for-20 slump.

Baker isn’t worried about the reigning National League MVP runner-up.

“Murphy spoiled you guys,” he said. “Nobody hits forever. That’s how I look at it. And if he says nothing’s wrong (physically), there’s nothing wrong. He’s spoiled us all. Sometimes you don’t hit.”

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