Trea Turner’s speed is just what Dusty Baker ordered

JUPITER, Fla. - When he was asked at the Winter Meetings what the Nationals most needed, Dusty Baker pointed to speed as a necessary ingredient in the lineup. It’s no secret Baker likes to put pressure on a defense, and fleet feet on the basepaths can also translate into meaty fastballs thrown to a slugger as opponents try to neutralize the running game.

Baker has known for a while that he has a burgeoning burner in Trea Turner, easily the fastest man on his roster. But the manager has stopped short of building up Turner as the franchise’s shortstop of the future - perhaps because he’s wary that Turner is only 22 and perhaps because it’s in the Nats’ best interests to give him a little more minor league seasoning for both financial and player development reasons.

Trea Turner smile blue.pngBut in the first inning of the Nationals’ 5-2 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday, Turner gave a glimpse of what he brings to the table. Blink and you would have missed the quickness he showed getting out of the box and down the first base line on a routine ground ball to second baseman Kolten Wong. When Wong momentarily bobbled the ball, that was all the time Turner needed to cross first base safely.

Talk about a small margin for error, which was how the play was scored. It could have been ruled a hit, but either way, Turner made Wong pay for not cleanly gloving the bouncer.

“Speed kills,” Baker smiled after the game. “That was the Cardinals’ mantra for years and years and years. You got speed and it makes you do things and makes you make mistakes you normally wouldn’t make.”

Turner, who stole second but was stranded there, is only 1-for-8 this spring with a solo homer, but every time he hits the ball - especially every time he hits the ball on the ground - it’s an adventure. He’s proven to Baker that he can handle an inside fastball, but the new manager will keep trotting him out there to see if he can readjust once opposing pitchers start to get a book on him.

Speed is a great asset, but it can’t be the only one in Turner’s toolbox.

“That’s what the game doesn’t have that much of,” Baker said. “You can see areas where he needs to play and then some improvement, but all young players are in about the same boat.”

The Nationals have three players battling to be their starting shortstop. Danny Espinosa’s experience, longevity and strong arm give him an edge in the competition over Turner and veteran Stephen Drew, who was signed to provide insurance at the position. Turner could force his way into the conversation with a strong spring. For now, he isn’t going to run away with the job - even if he is the best long-range option - but he’s making people take notice.

* Baker was impressed with the two shutout innings right-hander Blake Treinen threw in his first spring outing, and particularly with how Treinen kept four left-handed Cardinals batters off the bases after struggling mightily against lefty swingers while in the majors the past two seasons.

“That’s something I’m sure he’s aware of, something I’m sure he’s been working on, something everybody else has made him aware of,” Baker said. “He showed good command.”

* Righty Michael Brady, a converted infielder who was acquired with reliever Trevor Gott in the offseason deal that sent infielder Yunel Escobar to the Angels, impressed with a scoreless eighth inning in his first spring outing. Brady allowed a hit and struck out one.

“He gives you a lot of arm and legs and stuff, but basically he gets to the same release point, so his control is really, really very good for a position player. You’d never know he was a (position) player.”

Gott, who struggled a little in an intrasquad game outing last week, worked a perfect fourth, striking out a batter and showing plus velocity.

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