Now Nats’ all-time steals leader, Turner still strives to improve

From the moment he first reached base for the Nationals - the date was Sept. 1, 2015, the site Busch Stadium in St. Louis - Trea Turner was destined to break the club’s all-time stolen base record.

Turner stole second base in that game. He returned permanently in the summer of 2016 and stole 33 bases in only 73 games. Last year he stole 46 (establishing a new single-season Nats record) in only 98 games. And though his pace has cooled off somewhat this season, he still boasts a league-leading 42 steals through 156 games.

And when he successfully swiped second during the bottom of the third Sunday afternoon, Turner officially had accomplished what everyone assumed all along he would: He became the club’s all-time leader with 123 stolen bases, topping Ian Desmond’s prior mark.

Thumbnail image for Harper and Turner handshake.jpg“I think any time a record is within reach, I think it’s always cool to be mentioned along with it, or beat one or set your own,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work. It shows it can pay off if you continue to try to get better and put the work in over a long time. So, I like it.”

Turner has always sought to prove he’s much more than a speedster. He’s a productive offensive player who just so happens to be one of the fastest runners in the sport, as well. And so while no one is surprised by his 42 stolen bases this season, neither should anyone be surprised by his career-high 18 homers and 26 doubles.

“I said this in spring training,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Here’s a kid that can hit 20-25 home runs every year and drive in 80-90 runs for us and steal 50 bases, and he’s proved that this year.”

Martinez sees potential for even more from Turner. The coaching staff has worked with the 25-year-old all season on his approach at the plate, encouraging him to work the count more, draw more walks and not be afraid to bat with two strikes.

At times, Turner looks like he’s made strides in that department. His walk rate (5.9 percent from 2015-17) has jumped up to 9.1 percent this season. But his strikeout rate has remained consistent throughout his career, right around 18 percent.

The Nationals try to remind themselves that Turner is far from a finished product. He’s still only four years removed from college, and he only now is completing his first full, healthy season in the majors. There’s ample reason to believe he’ll continue to improve in the future.

“Absolutely. I really think he’s going to get better,” Martinez said. “Once he starts learning his strike zone, he’s really going to take off. Right now, he gets up there and he gets it going and he lets it rip. Which is OK, because he’s pretty successful doing it. But in the future, he can be a really good leadoff hitter, understanding that sometimes he can take a strike 3-1 or two strikes until it gets to 3-2 and get on base and do other things besides hit.”

The Nationals also believe Turner can become a better baserunner. He’s been caught stealing nine times this season. He’s also been picked off six times, including in the bottom of the fourth inning of Sunday’s loss to the Mets.

“I just wonder how many bases I’ve left on the field in the last year or two years,” he said. “Probably double digits. Probably 10-to-15 or so. Those are outs for my team. Like today, the pickoff. Just small things like that. It’s going to happen with being aggressive and taking chances. But the better you can be, I think that’s something you should strive for.”

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