Middle infielders’ get-to-know-you process starts now

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Brian Dozier and Trea Turner took their respective positions in the middle of the infield Tuesday morning and began the daily routine of fielding grounders. That soon morphed into double play turns, then drills that involved the entire Nationals infield, then the entire defense.

Thus began the first step in building one of the most important relationships in baseball: second baseman and shortstop.

Everyone has to go through it, and there’s always a learning curve. It’s just a question of how much time the duo needs to develop the necessary rapport with each other.

“I don’t feel like it takes a long time, but it’s something that we have to work at it,” Dozier said. “Because throughout my career, I think every opening day I’ve had a different shortstop throughout the past seven, eight years.”

He’s only slightly exaggerating. Though he spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Twins, Dozier was paired up with six different middle-infield partners on a regular basis. There were Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla when he debuted in 2012 (actually as a shortstop). There was Pedro Florimón in 2013 and 2014. There was Danny Santana in 2015, then Eduardo Escobar in 2016. Jorge Polanco took over in 2017, then Escobar was back in 2018.

And that’s all before Dozier was traded last summer to the Dodgers, where he and Manny Machado had to learn each other’s tendencies on the fly in the middle of a pennant race.

So Dozier is used to this dance. And he’s grateful he has six weeks of spring training to get to know Turner before the red light comes on for real.

Both players agree about the key to jumpstarting this process.

Turner-Fields-Gray-Sidebar.jpg“Just a lot of communication,” Turner said. “We’ve done a good job of that so far this spring. As a team, as a coaching staff, and as players, we’re just starting to talk more and more. It just starts with the communication, and obviously the reps start to come.”

The Nationals are excited about the prospect of the Dozier-Turner combo developing into something special. If nothing else, they expect a dramatic improvement in defense up the middle after some notable issues in recent seasons.

For all the value Daniel Murphy had at the plate, the since-departed veteran was admittedly a liability in the field. Murphy started only one 4-6-3 double play in 38 games last season. He started only 19 double plays in 139 games in 2017. (For comparison’s sake, Dozier started 32 double plays in 152 games in 2017, when he won a Gold Glove Award.)

Dozier dealt with a bone bruise in his knee much of last season, and that may have negatively affected his defensive work. But healthy now, he’s primed to return to his peak form in the field, and the Nationals believe that will make a significant difference.

“Obviously, Dozier is coming back from a little bit of knee issue, but he’s ready to go,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I talked to him, and if you know Dozier, he’s got that little chip on his shoulder. He’s excited to be here, and I think he just makes us better.”

There’s only so much the two infielders can accomplish during these early workouts. It’ll take some time in Grapefruit League games beginning this weekend to really begin to pick up on each other’s tendencies and preferences. But there’s ample time for that to happen.

“We need to feel, I guess, the chemistry of the double play,” Dozier said. “Not only that, but the positioning and all that. That takes care of itself throughout the course of spring training. Because it’s not like we’re taking just 10-12 ground balls a day. We’ll get used to each other.”

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