- The Washington Times
Monday, July 25, 2016

The topic Sunday was what’s next for prospect Trea Turner. No matter how he was asked, Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker had to circumvent the question at least in part.

“We’ll see,” Baker said.

The trouble Sunday was that the club had to make multiple moves before Baker could discuss its plan in public. That evening, two roster changes were made before Monday’s day off: outfielder Michael A. Taylor and starting pitcher Lucas Giolito were sent to Triple-A Syracuse. It’s expected that reliever Sammy Solis — a desperately needed third left-handed arm in the bullpen — and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman will be activated from the disabled list Tuesday to replace them.

Zimmerman’s return means he’ll take over first base again. Daniel Murphy will shift back to second. The Nationals’ infield will be realigned to what it was before Zimmerman went on the disabled list July 8 because of a left rib cage strain.

The problem continues to be center field. One option, Taylor, could not sustain massive spring training numbers or fix his strikeout problem. That’s why he is back in the minor leagues. The other option, Ben Revere, is equally troubling. If he had enough at-bats to be counted among the league leaders, Revere would by far have the poorest average and on-base percentage among regular center fielders. He’s hitting .216 (90 points below his average last season, 72 points below his career average) with a .263 on-base percentage. He’s choking the offense from the start.

Which brings up the questions about Turner, who is hitting .282 with four stolen bases in just 39 at-bats. The Nationals moved him to center field on June 27 when he was still playing for Syracuse. He played six games there, adding flexibility to his rsum which already included shortstop and second base.

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“I think I had a couple tough balls hit at me — line drives — I made the right decision at the time,” Turner said. “I made all the plays that came to me. At the same time, I know it’s not as easy as that. You have to play balls off the wall. In big league ballparks, it’s going to be a lot different everywhere you go and guys are a lot stronger, so they hit the ball a little bit farther You’ve got to take all that into account and learn.”

It’s possible the Nationals platoon Turner with Revere in center field, each time leaving themselves with a speed option on the bench. There are risks and considerations with doing so. Foremost, the question is if Turner can be a viable major league center fielder at this point. There are multiple layers that go into defensive positioning. Also, the Nationals’ center fielder has to be able to make up ground to left-center field to account for Jayson Werth’s limited range. By the metric defensive WAR, Werth is on the way to his poorest defensive season.

Further complicating a platoon situation is that Revere has reverse splits. Though he hits left-handed, he hits left-handed pitching better than right-handed pitching not only this season, but throughout his career (. 300 versus .283 career). Turner, in a small sample, is distinctly better against left-handers in the major leagues. He’s hitting .350 against them.

Off to Cleveland for the start of a nine-game road trip, Baker has some sorting out to do.

“[Turner is] an impact player,” Baker said. ” … Now, we’ve just got to try to find a place with [Zimmerman] coming back, try a place for him to play. Is it better for him to go play every day [in the minor leagues]? Or is it to play sometime here? Or make a determination [play him] all the time?”

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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