Trea Turner returns: “This is where everybody wants to be”

CINCINNATI - Jersey No. 7 is hanging in his locker. Trea Turner is back in the majors for the first time in 2016.

With Ryan Zimmerman away for paternity leave, the Nationals’ top offensive prospect has returned to the Nationals and will start at second base in Friday’s series opener against the Reds.

“Feels good,” Turner said, sitting in the visitor’s dugout hours before the game. “This is where everybody wants to be and to get another opportunity to do it. It’s fun and I’m going to try to take advantage of it and enjoy the time.”

Turner knows this will more than likely be just a weekend call up. Manager Dusty Baker expects to start Clint Robinson at first base the rest of the series and move Daniel Murphy to second base.

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“It’s just a weekend thing,” Baker said. “Unless Zim has another baby in the meantime. It’s a weekend thing. He was our best choice to do a number of things to help us. he’s going to play today, Murph’s playing first base today and then tomorrow we’re going Big Robinson the next couple days.

“Then Murph will move back to second base. I considered possibly playing Trea at short one day but we got a day off yesterday and a day off the day after this series so health and being tired is certainly not an issue when you have that many days off in a short period of time. He’s going to do whatever it takes to help us here win as many games as we can.”

That plan is fine with Turner.

“They told me I’d be here while Zimmerman is gone,” Turner confirmed. “My job is to help the team anyway I can whether it’s off the bench or starting, second base, shortstop, wherever. It may be whether it’s late in the game or starting and I’m just going to try to continue the roll that we are on and enjoy it.”

The 22-year-old Turner is off to another outstanding start offensively with Triple-A Syracuse, hitting .310 with 13 doubles, five triples, two homers and 24 RBIs through 50 games.

“I think I’ve grown approach-wise,” Turner said. “I’m starting to lay off pitches that I think I swung last year and even at the beginning of this year. I think I’ve done a better job plate discipline-wise. That’s helping me square the ball up more and I think I’m having better at-bats overall because of that.”

Baker said Turner let him know that he has looked to improve on his game while with the Chiefs and not just sit there and hope he gets called up.

“We all wanna be somewhere now,” Baker said. “It just doesn’t happen like that all the time. It’s not at your speed, it’s the speed of when you’re needed. I spoke to Trea earlier he said that he still has a few things to learn. He said he’s still making some rookie mistakes at short but he’s getting better, he appreciates that time to go down there and play and learn his skills.

“What happens is we just see the players batting averages and what they do offensively but you rarely do you see what a guy’s box score doesn’t tell what you’re doing, he called them dumb errors and they’re not dumb errors they’re just, to me they’re errors of either omission or errors of youth and being in a hurry sometimes. He’s still got some things to learn and let’s let him learn it.”

Baker said the logjam in front of him is led by veteran shortstop Danny Espinosa, who has started to come on a bit with power numbers, just not the high average. Espinosa has four homers in the last seven games, but is hitting just .208 in that run.

“[R]ight now there’s no room,” Baker said of where to put Turner. “Danny Espinosa his batting average isn’t high but his home runs and his RBIs (are). He’s certainly playing good defense. I told him hey time is on your side. and I been where he’s been already and were always in a hurry but his future is very bright and it’s ahead of him.”

The added experience of playing for just one team the past two full months has also allowed him to just concentrate on his craft and not worry about what’s next. Last season, he played for several teams and knew he was going to be traded in mid-June.

“It’s been a lot different to only play for one team be in one spot,” Turner said. “Hopefully I’ll be here for at least a little bit longer and not have a trade date. It’s nice to be around the same people everyday, be around those guys in Triple-A. Got a lot of good friends down there. The coaching staff I like a lot. It’s nice to relax a little bit and not have to worry about where I’m going next...it’s all baseball and that’s the fun part.”

Turner continues to build that experience he will need at this level to play for years thanks in part to staying put. And even though he was raking early with Syracuse, he still wanted to be more consistent.

“I’m competitive. I wanted to play well,” Turner said. “I was hitting whatever it may be but I still wanted to hit better. That’s just how I am. I’m going to go out there each and every day and try to improve on the day before. If I did bad, what’d I do wrong? And go out there the next day and try to fix it. If you get caught up in that which is easy to do you can struggle really fast and things can spiral on you and you can go down hill real quick.

“I’m real competitive. I think I try to focus on that is what can I win next: whether it’s a game, an at-bat, make the next play for a pitcher, whatever it may be.”

Can he help read everywhere that fans want him with the Nats right now?

“It’s everywhere. It’s hard not to see it,” Turner said. “But you can’t think about that or I’m going to go out there and play pretty bad. You got to play defense for the pitchers. It’s a team game. If you’re not ready mentally, it can hurt your team just as much physically.”

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