WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- First-time manager Dave Martinez has not given many indications of how exactly he plans to fill out the lineup for the Nationals to start the season, aside from the top of the order. Ideally, Adam Eaton will be his leadoff hitter and Trea Turner will
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- First-time manager Dave Martinez has not given many indications of how exactly he plans to fill out the lineup for the Nationals to start the season, aside from the top of the order. Ideally, Adam Eaton will be his leadoff hitter and Trea Turner will drop down to second.
It is a change from last season, when Turner spent most of the season as the primary leadoff hitter. He will now likely spend most of his time batting directly in front of Bryce Harper, as he did during Sunday's game against the Braves. However, the Nationals don't expect this change to hinder Turner's ability on the basepaths.
The two met earlier in the week, and Martinez expressed to Turner that he will have free rein on the bases.
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"Davey told me that it's kind of on me, for the most part," Turner said. "I take some pride in that. I'll be smart about it, don't want to make stupid outs, but at the same time you want to be aggressive."
Martinez said he has also spoken to Harper about hitting behind Turner and does not see it as a potential issue. The risk is that if Turner steals second base, teams will walk Harper in response with the base open, but with Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy coming up behind him, Martinez does not believe it will be an issue. So, Turner should be free to be himself, regardless of lineup construction.
"I told him, 'If you hit second, leadoff, wherever you hit in the lineup, it doesn't change anything,'" Martinez said. "I want him to be aggressive on the bases, and he knows that."
It will be interesting to watch what kind of an impact the new Nationals coaching staff has on Turner. They are going to rely on analytics more heavily than the previous regime, from Martinez to hitting coach Kevin Long, who has already started working with Turner this spring.
Long is famous for preaching the benefits of hitting the ball in the air, and his teachings regarding launch angle helped change Murphy's career. Because of his speed, Turner has been told virtually his entire life to hit the ball on the ground and focus on bunting, something Turner has openly disagreed with.
When he reached the Majors in the second half of 2016, Turner made 43.1 percent of his contact on the ground, while 25.2 percent of his batted balls were line drives. He surprised by hitting 13 home runs in 73 games. But last season he hit the ball on the ground 51.7 percent of the time and his line-drive percentage fell to 14.8 percent. He hit 11 home runs in 98 games.
So, naturally, a smile crept across Turner's face when discussing Long's style.
"I like it," Turner said. "I think we were already on the same page before we even started working together. I wanted to get back to 2016 and he kind of wanted to, too."
Although he was initially in the Nationals' lineup for Sunday's game, Ryan Zimmerman was scratched after he arrived to the team's complex feeling some overall stiffness from working out during the past few days.
"I told him there's no sense of pushing it right now. It's February," Martinez said.
Martinez did not seem to have much concern for Zimmerman going forward and said that the 33-year-old would likely be able to make his spring debut in the next few days. So, Martinez felt there was no need to rush, and he said he could relate to the feeling Zimmerman had.
"I get it, I've been there," Martinez said. "As you get a little older, your body tends to stiffen up a little bit."
Kelley's first outing puts Nats at ease
Shawn Kelley had a promising Grapefruit League debut during Sunday's 9-3 victory against the Braves, tossing a scoreless inning on seven pitches with a strikeout. Kelley demonstrated a sharp slider in his first game action since last September after undergoing a stem cell injection during the offseason. The performance helped ease any lingering concerns about his health status.
"He looked better than OK," Martinez said. "He came out of the game, we made a joke, 'Hey, don't peak too soon.' But it's good to see him back out there. He threw the ball really well. He really did."
Washington wanted to get Kelley in a game early on this spring so he has plenty of time to ease into game action, although he will likely be limited to roughly eight or nine Grapefruit League appearances. Still, the Nationals plan on giving him chances to get enough preparation before the season begins, throwing on the backfields and in Minor League games.
But the Nationals can leave this first outing encouraged by what they saw.
"I think this was as much for them as it was for me, just to kind of gauge where I'm at physically, make sure that I feel as good as I say I do," Kelley said. "Because we all have a tendency to say we feel better than we do sometimes. It was good. ... That was kind of the plan. That way, test it early, kind of back off in the middle and then finish amped up."
The Nationals make one of their longest road trips of the spring when they travel to Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to take on the Braves on Monday afternoon (1:05 ET, available on Gameday Audio). Erick Fedde, the Nats' top pitching prospect, will make his Grapefruit League debut.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.