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Turner's LA story a testament to adjustments

MLB.com @philgrogers

Justin Turner never stops working to become a better hitter. He's become one of the best technicians in the game, but he's never going to take his success for granted.

"The thing about hitting is you never figure it out,'' Turner says. "It changes every day. Your body goes through different things, you're feeling different things. It's all about making adjustments. Every day, from day to day to day, you're making adjustments and adjustments. It makes it exciting to know the basic philosophies and make adjustments inside those philosophies to get yourself feeling good for that day.''

Justin Turner never stops working to become a better hitter. He's become one of the best technicians in the game, but he's never going to take his success for granted.

"The thing about hitting is you never figure it out,'' Turner says. "It changes every day. Your body goes through different things, you're feeling different things. It's all about making adjustments. Every day, from day to day to day, you're making adjustments and adjustments. It makes it exciting to know the basic philosophies and make adjustments inside those philosophies to get yourself feeling good for that day.''

It's fair to say Turner has been feeling good this postseason. The Dodgers' third baseman goes into Game 3 of the World Series hitting .325 with 14 RBIs in 10 games, which is a franchise record for RBIs in one postseason. He's hit four home runs, the latest being a Game 1 shot off Houston's Dallas Keuchel.

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Turner's story has been told often this season, but it's only becoming more remarkable given the distance he's traveled since 2013, when he was a bench player on the Mets. They were the third organization he'd been with, and the Dodgers would make it four when they signed him to a Minor League contract the following February after the Mets had dropped him from their roster.

Rather than become discouraged while getting only 200 at-bats with the Mets, Turner realized he needed to change something. He had the good fortune to be spending time with Marlon Byrd, who experienced such a late-career renaissance with the Mets that he would be traded to a strong Pirates team for the stretch run.

"He was already almost two years into his reconstruction of his swing,'' Turner says. "He [had been] a big foot-down-early guy, stay-back type of guy. I don't know how he came into contact with [hitting instructor] Doug Latta, who we work with, but Doug started implementing the leg kick with him. He went down to [the Mexican Winter League] and then he came to the Mets. He did it that year, obviously had a breakout year [.847 OPS, 24 homers in 2013]. We talked all the time about hitting with the leg kick, different feels and stuff. He encouraged me to hit with him in the offseason with the guy he hits with.''

Turner, Byrd and Latta essentially spent the offseason of 2013-14 together at The Ballyard, Latta's batting cage in the San Fernando Valley, outside Los Angeles.

"It wasn't something that just happened overnight,'' Turner says. "We did it five days a week for four months, trying to fix [my swing] and get to where I can repeat it. Went to Spring Training, had success throughout all of 2014 from that base we established; we made adjustments on the fly within the parameters of the philosophies we had and started having success.''

Video: WS2017 Gm1: Statcast™ tracks Turner's unlikely homer

Turner had always used a leg kick to start his swing, but Latta convinced him to think about "gaining ground'' -- which is his concept of not just raising the leg, but stepping toward the pitcher in the process.

"It was just a matter of changing what I thought was doing correctly, switching gears on my beliefs about hitting," Turner says. "Once I started doing that and getting in better position, I started seeing results, getting better and better and better. He talks about catching the ball out in front rather than catching it deep, where I'd always been, trying to pick my foot up and put it down in the same place, stay back, back the ball up and stay behind the ball. You're still staying behind the ball, you're still backing it up. You just moving your contact point out a little in front of you.''

Before working with Byrd and Latta, Turner had played in 318 Major League games, with his versatility as a fielder and success as a pinch-hitter his calling card. He hit .260 with a .685 OPS and a home run every 105 at-bats.

Turner's slash line over four seasons with the Dodgers is .303/.378/.502. He's hit 71 home runs, driven in 292 runs and has an OPS+ of 139 in 516 games.

Turner's career-high .945 OPS this season ranked as the eighth best in the National League, behind a Who's Who of the game's best hitters -- Joey Votto, Giancarlo Stanton, Charlie Blackmon, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant.

The Dodgers paid heavily to keep Turner last offseason, signing him to a four-year, $64 million extension, but it is proving to be money well spent.

"It's a scary thing to do something your whole life and have somebody throw a different philosophy at you and say, 'This is going to be more efficient,' " Turner says. "Go in the cage, [takes swings at] flips and feel great all the time, but when you step in the box against live pitching, it's tough to trust all that stuff you've been doing, implement the [new approach].''

Those adjustments are built into Turner's swing now, to the detriment of pitchers everywhere.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

Los Angeles Dodgers