WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Davey Martinez called Trea Turner into his office this week and told the speedy shortstop he wants him to attempt more stolen bases this season. How many? Let’s just say even the ultra-aggressive Turner was taken aback.
“Yeah, he gave me a number,” Turner said. “And I was like: ‘Wow, all right.’”
Martinez later revealed to assembled reporters that he thinks if Turner “attempts 75-80, we’ll be in great shape.”
If Turner’s able to pull that off, he’d be in elite company. Only nine major leaguers have attempted at least 75 stolen bases in a season over the last decade. Only four (Juan Pierre, Dee Gordon, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Villar) have attempted 80 or more.
Some players might prefer their manager not spell something like that out so explicitly, but Turner was thrilled with Martinez’s challenge.
“Oh, yeah. Anytime a coach pushes you to do something that you think is a little crazy, I think that’s them believing in you that you can do it,” he said. “It’s possible. It’s still a lot, but it’s possible. I think I’m going to have to do a lot of things right, and hopefully get a shot at accomplishing it.”
As Turner astutely points out, the key isn’t so much running at will when he gets on base. It’s getting on base as much as possible to create more opportunities to run when it’s appropriate.
In that regard, Turner made some key strides last season. He posted a .344 on-base percentage, raising his walk rate from 6.7 percent in 2017 to 9.3 percent in 2018. He reached base 254 times, the 15th-highest total in the majors.
Now Martinez just wants him to start picking up some extra bases once he’s aboard.
“When he gets on base, he makes things happen,” the manager said. “And for us - I talk about this all the time - as baserunners we want to be on third base with less than two outs. He really understands that and what it means to this ballclub.”
Turner, mind you, still led the National League with 43 stolen bases last season. But that came while playing in all 162 games. The previous season, despite playing only 98 games, he stole 46 bases.
In hindsight, he knows he could have racked up a higher total last year.
“I think I always can,” he said. “There’s plenty of opportunities where I just say no, or not right now. Not an excuse, but find a way to play a little smarter, play a little slower. So I think, no matter if I steal 30 or 100, I think there’s always room for more. But it’s whether or not it’s the right situation, right time.”
The Nationals do want Turner to continue to be smart about his exploits on the bases. He was picked off six times last season, and that’s a point of emphasis this spring. Martinez also noted how often Turner successfully beat the throw to second base but then overslid the bag and was tagged out. Those little things add up over the course of a full season.
So Turner is working to eliminate the mistakes and keep an open mind about running with more regularity. At the same time, he wants to keep his primary focus less on a big number his manager threw out at him and more on perfecting the process that might put him in position to achieve that lofty goal.
“Stolen bases are nice,” Turner said. “But the stuff that comes along with stolen bases are even more important.”