- The Washington Times
Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Nationals manager Dusty Baker is giving tidbits of advice to Trea Turner while the 23-year-old shortstop sits on the disabled list with a non-displaced fracture in his right wrist. Among them: drink more milk.

“Take magnesium, takes potassium, everything that promotes bone healing,” Baker said.

There is no timetable for Turner’s injury after he was hit by a pitch last week against the Chicago Cubs. But fans should note that Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman returned Tuesday after missing seven weeks with a non-displaced fracture in his left wrist.

While Turner’s out, the Nationals have gotten good results with a three-man committee of Stephen Drew, Wilmer Difo and Adrian Sanchez. So far, there’s no need to rush Turner back.

As valuable as he is, the committee allows the Nationals to give teams different looks. Drew, hitting .308, has been Turner’s primary backup and provided a bat at the bottom of the lineup.

Difo, on the other hand, brings defense and has been improving at the plate. Sanchez is a relative unknown after spending 10 years in the minors and was called up to the majors for the first time on Friday.

Baker has been able to rotate the three in and out of the lineup — acknowledging it’s a luxury most teams don’t have.

“Now I have three of them, all three can play all three infield positions interchangeable,” Baker said. “[Tuesday], I put Sanchez at second because I want to see him at second. I know he can play short. Difo’s played second, short and third for us. The fact that they can — the hard part is you don’t see many young players who can turn double plays from both sides of the bag.”

The Nationals aren’t in as tough as a spot in part because they’ve been in this position before. In April, Turner was on the DL for 10 days with a right hamstring strain.

During that time, Difo saw the majority of playing time because Drew was also out with a hamstring injury. Difo is only batting .214, but has batted .364 in the last week. It’s a small sample size, but the 25-year-old has been able to grow with more opportunity.

Difo has made tweaks to his stance to help with hitting and has been focusing more on the zones he should hit. In the process, he has become more comfortable.

Seeing that Difo had a tendency to fly out, Baker told him to focus on hitting more ground balls and line drives.

“The only few adjustments I made was showing up on the bat and give me better bat control and not try to do too much with the pitches,” Difo said through a translator. “Just try to put the ball in play and it’s helped me make the adjustment pretty good.”

Against the Mets Tuesday, Difo went 2-for-4 and had a walk.

“We’re working with him, and it’s easier to convey these things when a person has success doing what you’re trying to convey to them,” Baker said.

Drew, 34, signed a one-year deal with the Nationals in January and Baker said Tuesday that the backup shortstop is a priority for them to bring back.

Unlike Turner, Drew doesn’t bat at the top of the lineup. Another consequence of Turner’s injury is having to fill the role of the leadoff hitter. Outfielders Brian Goodwin and Michael A. Taylor have traded duties in that regard, but that has been working out, too.

In the leadoff spot, Goodwin is batting .284 and is slugging .643 in 14 at-bats there. Taylor is batting .250 in the leadoff in eight at-bats, but is hitting .500 batting second.

Both players are outperforming preseason expectations.

The Nationals, in general, have a deep bench and it’s part of the reason they have a commanding lead in the NL East. Outside of Turner’s injury, having options like Drew, Difo and Sanchez gives Baker the opportunity to rest players and keep them fresh.

“Every good team that I’ve had, had a good bench,” Baker said. “Every bad team I’ve had, had no bench, or the bench was playing. That’s the difference. You can’t make it without the bench.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.