WASHINGTON -- Through the first half of the season, as the Nationals built up their lead in the National League East, they did so with virtually no contribution from rookies -- Trea Turner played three games and Lucas Giolito made two starts.
That seems poised to change during the season's final two months as a few rookies take on an increased role as Washington looks to secure its third division title in five years.
"I've gotten criticism -- I don't know where it came from -- that I don't like young guys," manager Dusty Baker said. "I like young guys that I can play. So if they can play, I'll play ya. You need that young exuberance. You need their energy, you need their speed to kind of pick us up to ignite some of the older guys."
Turner -- rated the club's No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline -- will almost certainly play the biggest role of any Nationals rookie.
Turner has been putting up stellar numbers in the Minors all season, however, he was blocked from reaching the Majors earlier in the season by Danny Espinosa, who the Nats favored defensively at shortstop. But Turner received a crash course in the outfield, and he has recently become the starting center fielder.
Turner has also provided a spark from the leadoff spot, something Washington has lacked all season long. In 19 games this season, he is hitting .312/.346/.494, with four triples, a home run and eight stolen bases without being caught.
"Everyone's a professional, and at this level, everything counts," Turner said. "There's no time for adjusting or getting some games under your belt, you got to win every game you possibly can. I think they prepare you pretty well in the Minor Leagues in this organization to win and win at each level."
The Nationals boast one of the best farm systems in the Majors, ranked sixth by MLB Pipeline's prospect points system at the midseason mark. So when Stephen Drew landed on the disabled list with vertigo-like symptoms, the team called upon Wilmer Difo to replace him on the roster.
Initially, Difo's playing time was intended to be sporadic, and perhaps it still will be. But Baker has been impressed with Difo, the Nats' No. 6 prospect, in his short time in the Majors. Baker could find ways to get Difo more playing time, especially while Drew's status remains unclear and Ryan Zimmerman is nursing a sore left wrist.
Catcher Pedro Severino, the team's No. 16 prospect, has served as the team's backup catcher while Jose Lobaton is on the DL with left elbow tendinitis.
And to fill the vacant rotation spot left by the injured Joe Ross (right shoulder inflammation), the Nationals relied upon a combination of Giolito and Reynaldo López, their top ranked and No. 4 prospects, respectively, although they have both struggled. Giolito posted a 4.91 ERA in three starts with five strikeouts and nine walks, while Lopez gave up nine runs with 13 strikeouts and six walks in 8 2/3 innings over two starts.
The Nats have considered that both Lopez and Giolito could contribute to the team in a bullpen role down the stretch and potentially in the playoffs. Washington was also encouraged from what it saw from right-hander Koda Glover in his two Major League appearances this year.
"Lately some of the younger guys have stepped up," Turner said. "It's nice to not have to rely on one person, whether it's offense or defense, whatever it may be -- get some production everywhere. Right now, that's what we're doing. And [we'll] try to continue that, keep battling and hopefully it lasts the entire year."