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.”
HARPER SETS FRANCHISE WALK RECORD
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.”
DESMOND MUM ON BUNT ATTEMPT
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.”