- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2017

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — On the Instagram page for PizzaROX, a pizzeria in Boynton Beach, Florida, is a new picture of an employee and Bryce Harper.

Harper has a orange “BH” logo on his gray sweatshirt. Both he and the employee are smiling next to a caption that mentioned how nice Harper, his wife and friends were during their Thursday visit.

Not pictured was Trea Turner. He was there, though with a body and face that more suggests he may be the pizza delivery guy as opposed to one of last season’s offensive forces in the National League. He laughed when retelling the story Friday. Harper was hounded for photos. Turner and the sporadic hair on his boyish face was ignored. He was fine with that.

“It’s nice,” Turner said. “I don’t want any attention. I don’t want to have to go out to eat and worry about all that. It’s nice not having that. I guess that comes with success. But for me right now, I’m good. I don’t have to worry about that.”

The careening manner of his brief career has settled this spring. Turner will be the starting shortstop, returning to his lifelong position now that the Nationals don’t need him in center field and Danny Espinosa is elsewhere. Turner is also out of the gray area he was stuck in after the Nationals acquired him in a trade from San Diego, but the Padres still controlled his rights for months. Lastly, there will be no on-purpose stop at the minor leagues this year.

“It’s comforting and relaxing to know what exactly is expected out of you,” Turner said.

He is the Nationals’ starting shortstop. It’s a burdensome flat phrase since Turner’s responsibilities will be vast. Taking over for Espinosa means he replaces one of the league’s best defensive shortstops. In doing so, he needs to find in-game comfort with new double-play partner Daniel Murphy. The two worked together in the middle of the infield last spring and pregame last season when Turner came in from the outfield to take ground balls. Though, that’s far from blindly knowing the nuances of the other person.

At the plate, Turner’s role may receive a slight adjustment. The offseason acquisition of center fielder Adam Eaton began lineup questions. Eaton has hit first in 119 of his 154 career starts. Turner has been a leadoff hitter for most of his life. He hit second at times in college and in professional baseball. Of his 307 at-bats last season when he hit .342 and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, Turner was in the top spot for 293 at-bats, exploiting a rare contact, speed and power mix.

“I think a lot changes,” Turner said of the difference in spots. “I think less stolen base opportunities, more RBI opportunities. More situational hitting if someone is on in front of you. Pitch to you a little differently. Leading off the game is definitely different than hitting second.”

The duo gives manager Dusty Baker multiple options. In order to avoid hitting three left-handers in a row, he could use Eaton to leadoff, hit Turner second, then follow with Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. Baker mentioned Friday that he thought Jayson Werth was effective last season as the No. 2 hitter, where he had a .781 OPS as opposed to a .680 OPS when he hit sixth, a spot he was in most often when not hitting second.

Baker even entertained the idea of splitting Eaton and Turner by possibly moving Eaton toward the bottom half of the lineup. The only way for both to stay at the top and Turner to leadoff is to have three left-handed hitters bat in a row. Baker learned last season that pairing Murphy and Harper back-to-back was a benefit, not a detriment, and he stopped splitting them in the lineup. In fact, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon argued for that lineup when he said the impact of splits against like-handed pitchers is mitigated when the talent level is so high. Does that theory apply to having Turner up top and three left-handed hitters in a row? Baker said he’s played the options in his mind “a hundred times.”

“That’s what we got spring training for and I have to talk to the guys prior to – I’m going to do what I want to do,” Baker said. “But, I’d rather talk to them and I don’t know if it’s getting their blessings, but at least have them accept it and explain why I feel the way I do about things.”

Turner preferring to operate in the shadows does not mean his self-confidence is lacking. When asked if he was surprised by last season’s results, he said he was, but less than a lot of other people. The 23 year old expects big seasons to be the norm, even if they are such a challenge to come by in the major leagues.

He was reminded of the punch-counter-punch life of a major-league hitter in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Dodgers pitched him and his teammates up in the strike zone when October hit. That was not the strategy the Dodgers used earlier in the season against Washington. It often foiled Turner. His .318 average in the National League Division Series was countered by 11 strikeouts in 22 at-bats.

“It’s hard to hit velocity up there,” Turner said. “They had a lot of guys throw 95 and they were good at throwing it in a location where you didn’t know whether to swing or not. I think I struck out quite a bit in that series. … I think it’s easily fixable if you keep them in the zone.”

For the first time, he will start with a full major-league season in front of him to figure those things out. If he stays on his current trajectory, his anonymity will begin to evaporate, leaving him to make pizza at home.

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