WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Trea Turner knows the primary criticism with his approach at the plate. And he doesn’t entirely disagree, even if he adds a qualifier to the sentiment.
“I think a lot of people made a big deal out of me not walking the last couple years, I guess rightfully so,” the Nationals shortstop said. “But I feel like if they give me pitches to hit, I should put them in play. And if they don’t, I need to walk.”
Turner is an aggressive hitter, always has been and always will be. He can jump on a first-pitch fastball and send a ball screaming down the left field line with the best of them. But as a top-of-the-order batter, Turner also knows his job first and foremost is to get on base. Which sometimes means drawing a walk instead of hoping for a hit.
Which isn’t something he’s been great at doing since reaching the big leagues. Of the 302 major leaguers with at least 500 plate appearances over the last two seasons, Turner ranks 259th with one walk per 17.52 plate appearances. (For comparison’s sake, Bryce Harper ranks sixth with one walk per 6.36 plate appearances.)
So this spring Turner is making more of a concerted effort to try to work the count and coerce more pitchers into issuing him a free pass. And early on, that plan is working.
Turner already has drawn four walks in only 11 Grapefruit League plate appearances, including a pair Friday in the Nationals’ game against the Mets.
“I’m trying to take a few more pitches here and there, but at the same time I don’t want to be hitting with two strikes all the time,” he said. “It’s trying to find a happy medium. I don’t want to be 0-2 and miss the pitches I feel like I should’ve swung at.”
Indeed, even after drawing one of his walks Friday, Turner couldn’t help but wonder what might have been had he been more aggressive at the outset of the at-bat.
“I ended up walking, but the first two pitches I got were really good pitches to hit,” he said. “I would’ve liked to swing at the first one, in my mind, but I just didn’t. And the second one, for whatever reason I just didn’t as well. But I ended up working a walk out of it. I feel like that at-bat would’ve been over in my mind, because I would’ve hoped to put that pitch right down the middle in play.”
So it’s a fine line between patience and aggressiveness, and recognizing when to be what.
“He knows,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s been talked to about still being aggressive, but being aggressive in the strike zone.”
Turner most gets into trouble when he chases pitches, especially breaking balls, out of the zone. That’s what haunted him during last fall’s National League Division Series, when he went 3-for-21 with two walks (both in Game 4) and seven strikeouts.
The key now is to recognize what pitches are there for the taking over the plate and what pitches he needs to watch sail by. So far this spring, so good.
“I think in the long run when he gets pitches to hit, his at-bats will be a little bit longer, and also he’ll make hard contact,” Martinez said. “We’ve talked about not losing his aggressiveness in the strike zone. So when he starts laying off pitches like that, it’s only going to help him.”