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Turner’s 1st homer, Harper’s record and Desmond’s bunt

Sep 30, 2015, 10:03 AM EDT


ATLANTA — The jokes were flying around the Nationals’ clubhouse Tuesday night, with teammates taking every opportunity they could to turn Trea Turner’s first career homer into an excuse to make fun of his boyish looks and physique.

“For 135 pounds soaking wet, he hit that ball a long way,” Ian Desmond cracked.

“He might look like he’s 15, but he can play at this level,” Tanner Roark added.

Indeed, Turner doesn’t appear at first glance like someone capable of hitting a major-league pitch 392 feet to left-center field. But there he was, doing just that, in the top of the sixth of the Nationals’ 2-1 loss to the Braves.

The Nationals’ dugout, which sometimes gives a rookie the silent treatment after he hits his first big-league homer, erupted with excitement and mobbed Turner after he rounded the bases.

“It’s always fun for me, because I don’t hit very many,” he said. “I enjoyed every second of it.”

Turner, listed as 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, may build his offensive game mostly around contact and speed, but he’s not completely devoid of power potential. He hit five homers in 321 plate appearances with Padres’ minor-league affiliates last season, and he hit eight in 500 plate appearances before his promotion this season.

Perhaps more important than that, the 22-year-old has shown an ability at every level of the game to find his hitting stroke after a brief, sluggish start. He did that at both Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Syracuse this summer, and he’s now doing it with the Nationals. After going 1-for-11 to begin his career, he now has six hits in his last 13 at-bats.

“Just getting comfortable with the surroundings,” Turner explained for this pattern. “Getting some first things out of the way. First hit. First home run. First defensive play. Whatever it may be. But getting them out of the way, it relaxes you and lets you settle in. When you get there, you’re always pressing and you always want to do well, and regardless if you try to or not you probably press a little bit more than you should. You’ve just got to relax and adjust.”

Bryce Harper drew his 124th walk of the season during Tuesday’s game, establishing a new franchise record. Ken Singleton, who walked 123 times for the Expos in 1973, held that mark for 42 years.

“Definitely that was one of my goals, to get on base,” Harper said. “In spring training this year, to see as many pitches as I can, to walk as much as I can. If you’re getting on base, you’re helping your team win ballgames. That’s definitely something I want to do for the next couple years of my career and see where I’m at.”

Harper, who leads the majors with a .466 on-base percentage, also leads the NL with a .334 batting average. But that lead has been slipping the last few days, with the young star in a mini-slump (he’s 3 for his last 22). Miami’s Dee Gordon now lurks right behind him with a .332 batting average.

A batting title may not be first on Harper’s to-do list, but he acknowledged it is one of several feats he’s pursuing during this final week of the season.

“I mean, definitely being out of it and not being able to be in the playoffs this year, it’s definitely tough. But then you look back and try to get going and try to get those personal things,” he said. “That’s definitely something I want to get. I think walks will help that. If I can keep drawing walks, doing what I can. If I just keep — not doing what I’m doing right now, because that ain’t working — hopefully doing what I’ve been doing the last couple months and try to get locked back into that. I really want to get those four RBIs [to reach 100]. That’s something I really want to do. Hopefully I can do that and see where we’re at.”

For the second time in a week, Ian Desmond was asked to put down a sacrifice bunt with a man on second, nobody out and the Nationals trailing by a run late. And for the second time, he couldn’t get the job done, leaving the ball right in front of the plate to leave his teammate out at third base.

That scenario happened Thursday night in Washington, when Desmond bunted against the Orioles’ Brad Brach in the bottom of the eighth. And it happened here Tuesday night when he bunted against the Braves’ Arodys Vizcaino in the top of the ninth.

Making this latest once worse: Desmond didn’t immediately run out of the batter’s box after making contact, leading to an easy, 2-5-4 double play for Atlanta. Afterward, he explained it not as a lack of hustle but as an awareness of the location of Braves catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

“The ball hit down and went up,” Desmond said. “I didn’t want to take off prematurely and run into him and get called for interference. So I kinda waited for him to clear the path and took off.”

Manager Matt Williams, who has come under criticism for several instances in which he has called for bunts late in games that weren’t executed, said the rationale this time was to get the tying runner to third base with one out and a red-hot Matt den Dekker at the plate.

“We’ve got a chance there to get guys to second and third, and then a grounder or a flyball or whatever ties it,” Williams said. “Desi was out there early enough, it just bounced straight down and straight up to the catcher in fair territory.”

Desmond has attempted nine sacrifice bunts this season, more than he attempted the last three years combined. He has been successful six times.

Asked about his comfort level being asked to do that in this particular situation, the soon-to-be-free agent sighed and changed the subject.

“We’ve been down this road so many times,” Desmond said, “we should probably talk about something else.”

  1. veejh - Sep 30, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    Congrats, Trea.

  2. ArVAFan - Sep 30, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    He needs to take eating lessons from Jayson. And work up to workout lessons from Bryce. In the meantime, Bryce can warm up by bench-pressing Trea. With one arm.

    • natsfan1a - Sep 30, 2015 at 11:22 AM

      Would that be face or food? 🙂

      “He needs to take eating lessons from Jayson.”

  3. Doc - Sep 30, 2015 at 10:48 AM

    That kind of scene in the clubhouse is the one by which I want to remember the 2015 Nats.

    • homeparkdc - Sep 30, 2015 at 12:12 PM


  4. npb99 - Sep 30, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    Harper talking about “the next couple of years” of his career. Am I being paranoid or is that the second time in just a few days that he seems to be referring to the Nats phase of his career, which might be followed by an entirely different phase (OK, I realize we have him for 3, not 2, before FA)?

    • homeparkdc - Sep 30, 2015 at 10:55 AM

      If you’re right about that, it can all change. He might really like the next manager and Scherzer is a forever Nat. It’s the end of the season and everyone’s tired. Reset.

    • jd - Sep 30, 2015 at 11:06 AM

      I don’t think you are paranoid and I don’t think he is saying these things by accident. I think it’s a clear message that he wants some changes starting with the permanent expulsion of Paplebon and continuing with a competent manager and coaching staff.

    • trfwans - Sep 30, 2015 at 11:14 AM

      No one looks at anything more than a couple of years ahead when they’re 22. I bet he’s not putting anything in his 401k either.

      • NatsNut - Sep 30, 2015 at 12:01 PM

        I think $401K is about what he’ll make in two weeks next year. 😉

    • ward5nedc - Sep 30, 2015 at 11:58 AM

      I think it’s pretty simple:
      If the Nats don’t win a playoff series in the next 3 years he’s definitely gone.
      If they get close to or win a World Series his chances or staying are much better.
      2018 he will be in the HR derby at Nats Park and that will be a showcase for all 30 teams to up their bids.

  5. bowdenball - Sep 30, 2015 at 11:09 AM

    I love the MW logic that they “have a chance to get guys to second and third.” As if there’s no possible way to get them to second and third, or even to third and back in the dugout with a run scored, or even both back in the dugout with two runs scored, unless you bunt. “We had to do it … how else could we possibly put ourselves in a position to tie the game or take the lead”?

    Williams’ decisions are bad enough, but it’s his awful explanations of them that really lead you to the inevitable conclusion that he really has no idea what he’s going when it comes to how his decisions affect run expectancy or the team’s chances to win a ballgame.

  6. alexva6 - Sep 30, 2015 at 11:44 AM

    MW having him bunt in a meaningless game is all the proof you need that he just doesn’t get it.

    one more time, he can’t be gone soon enough

    • hersheyman - Sep 30, 2015 at 12:03 PM

      Well put. MW manages with a loser’s mentality. By the book with no instincts, He consistently makes decisions that make Seahawks Pete Carrol’s goal line decision last year look genius.

      • langleyclub - Sep 30, 2015 at 12:43 PM

        I hate bunting in almost all situations (except when the pitcher is batting) as, even if successful, the gives the other team an out, which are so precious in late game situations. The Braves’ closer was struggling, and the Nats gifted him two outs. His demeanor completely change after the Nats gave him two outs.

        With that said, Desmond is a MLB player. His last two bunt efforts were pathetic, regardless of whether he disagreed with the strategy – that was awful. Finally, Desmond is hitting .236 with .290 OBP. Guys with those numbers need to know how to bunt. It’s not as if MW asked Harper to bunt.

      • bowdenball - Sep 30, 2015 at 2:15 PM

        Desmond is a major league player, but his skill set as a major league player doesn’t include bunting. Just because you’re in the major leagues doesn’t mean you excel at every aspect of the game, and a manager’s job is to know that. If Williams inserted Clint Robinson to pinch-run for Michael A Taylor trailing by one run and Robinson got thrown out trying to score the tying run, would you say it was Robinson’s fault for not running the bases properly? Sure, Desmond isn’t hitting well this season, but Robinson is playing awful defense. Being bad (or in Desmond’s case, having a disappointing season) in one aspect of the game doesn’t magically mean you have to be good at aspects of the game that clearly don’t suit you.

        The fault here is 99% Williams.

  7. alexva6 - Sep 30, 2015 at 11:57 AM

    as for Turner, 25% of his hits this year were for extra bases. since he projects to be a leadoff hitter that is plenty of power.

    hopefully he plays every game and ends the year with the confidence that he can succeed at this level. of course he may already have that. he doesn’t look scared to me.

    • homeparkdc - Sep 30, 2015 at 12:19 PM

      Also hoping Turner gets more playing time at SS or 2B this week. Escobar is looking for .320, Desmond is looking for 20 HR, so they need to play, I guess. That leaves Rendon who…wants to be in ‘Texas?

      • Karl Kolchak - Sep 30, 2015 at 12:43 PM

        Desmond doesn’t need to play. He’s gone for good next week, so who cares if he gets his widdle feewings hurt.

  8. chiefwj - Sep 30, 2015 at 12:43 PM

    A few thoughts on the bunting business, FWIW.

    1) Last week’s bunting fiasco was much worse than yesterday’s IMO. With only a runner on second (and a fast pinch runner), the manager is saying that he doesn’t think Desi could hit a ground ball to the right side or a fly ball to right field. It was absolutely awful.

    2) Since the runner on first takes away the grounder to the right side and that runner can move into scoring position, a bunt yesterday wouldn’t have been the worst decision in the history of baseball–if it was successful. I’m wondering what the percentages of success would have to be in order for it to increase the possibility of scoring the tieing run? But it was still a bad decision here, for all the reasons discussed above–Nats’ position players almost never bunt for the first five months of the season and now the manager thinks these guys are the 1906 White Sox? In any case, given the bullpen problems, you would think they should play for more than one run.

    3) I think it’s interesting that Desi, who more than anyone takes responsibility for his mistakes, didn’t want to talk about the bunt. That suggests he thinks it was a horrible idea–otherwise, he would have owned up to not getting the bunt down.





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