PHOENIX — Trea Turner has become the Dodgers’ butter and egg man.
Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully used to pin that label on hitters who were good in RBI situations – because, like the neighborhood dairy men of the past, they delivered. Through the first 18 games this season, Turner has delivered 16 RBIs, tied for third in the National League.
The RBI numbers are a consequence of batting third in the lineup this season after spending most of his career batting leadoff. But Turner has made it happen by going 11 for 26 (.437) with runners in scoring position.
“Baseball’s changed a little bit where it doesn’t matter who you are, the situation, leading off the game, runners in scoring position – they’re gonna pitch you how they think they can get you out,” Turner said. “If they have to throw you all sliders or all fastballs or whatever it may be. So it’s just a matter of getting good pitches to hit and staying in the zone. Getting in those hitters’ counts and making them come to you.”
Turner won the NL batting title last season with an aggressive approach that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts sees him tempering a bit in the different lineup spot this season.
“I think in those situations he’s doing a better job of staying in the strike zone,” Roberts said. “We all know he likes to swing the bat. He’s one of the more aggressive guys in baseball. But in my opinion, to consistently drive in runs, you’ve got to stay in the strike zone and not expand, not be afraid to get into a count. I think he’s doing a much better job of that.”
The move from leadoff to No. 3 in the Dodgers’ deep lineup has pitchers approaching Turner differently this season, Roberts said.
“I think he’s pitched a little bit different,” Roberts said. “I think there’s more spin in there than when he hits at the top of the order. So it’s continuing to adjust to that three hole, where he’s an elite player, an elite offensive player. He’s being open to it, but he’s still adjusting to it.”
Turner said he sensed the same thing. But it didn’t hold up under scrutiny.
“I looked at it just to see if it was true. Not necessarily because of what (Roberts) said, but I thought that I’d seen a lot more breaking balls in general,” Turner said. “It’s pretty consistent with last year.“I’m getting relatively the same amount. It’s just different situations and hitting third changes it a little bit. But I’m getting used to it and I feel good.”
When a trio of rehabbing pitchers (Dustin May, Victor Gonzalez and Danny Duffy) stopped by Chase Field before Tuesday’s game, left-hander Caleb Ferguson was not among them.
Ferguson had Tommy John surgery (for a second time) in September 2020 and pitched during the Cactus League schedule before having some arm soreness and opening the season on the injured list.
Ferguson has been rehabbing at Camelback Ranch and threw to hitters earlier this week, according to Roberts. That was the only reason he wasn’t among the group at Chase Field.
“I think he was 94-95, throwing to hitters. It went really well,” Roberts said. “He’s tracking.
“He’ll go on a rehab assignment. It should be soon. I’m not sure when and hopefully a return to play sometime in mid-May.”
Gonzalez is also expected back in May. Tommy Kahnle could be activated next week. Blake Treinen and Andrew Heaney are currently on the IL and haven’t started throwing programs yet but are also expected back in May.
That could make for a crowded roster. The expanded 28-man rosters of April will be cut to 26 next week although MLB did agree to allow teams to carry 14 pitchers in May.
“Maybe they can make a concession for the Dodgers and let us carry 16 or 18,” Roberts joked.
In Heaney’s case, Roberts said it will be “a slow process.” He has not been cleared to start throwing and the Dodgers will be “quite conservative” in bringing him back from shoulder discomfort.
“There’s a threshold or a breaking point where it’s almost like you’ve got to start back over as far as a spring training buildup,” Roberts said. “We’re not there yet. But the more time before he picks up a baseball, the longer the buildup is going to be.”
The Dodgers are off Thursday.
Tigers (LHP Tyler Alexander, 0-2, 7.20 ERA) at Dodgers (LHP Tyler Anderson, 1-0, 2,84 ERA), Friday, 7:10 p.m., SNLA, 570 AM