MILWAUKEE — A few hours after he was named the Washington Nationals’ 2018 Heart and Hustle Award winner, Trea Turner was officially out of the team’s lineup. Manager Dave Martinez benched Turner for Tuesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers after the shortstop bunted in Monday night’s loss, walked out of the batter’s box and tossed his batting gloves away. Martinez said Turner probably wouldn’t play Tuesday after the uncharacteristic lack of hustle. Wilmer Difo will start at shortstop Tuesday in his place.
“I haven’t talked to him yet, but the conversation will be had,” Martinez said. “Honestly, I probably thought after yesterday, he probably needed a day off. Let him ponder it, and get him right. We need Trea. Trea’s a very good player. I don’t know if you guys know, but he won the Heart and Hustle Award today.”
Turner probably would have been out if he had run to first. His decision probably didn’t change the play. But for a team whose members say it should be fighting for every inch now, the decision not to run didn’t look good. Turner acknowledged that later when he said, “I probably should have run to first.” The shortstop’s defensive motto is “finish every play.” He has never raised questions about his hustle before. But Martinez benched him as much to send a message to his team as to Turner.
“I don’t ask these guys to be perfect, but I want them to be present every day,” Martinez said. “He knows that. I’ve got a lot of respect for him, and he’ll be back in there.”
The decision to bench Turner highlights another aspect of Martinez’s growth as a rookie manager, an unprecedented decision earned notice in his veteran clubhouse. Just before the all-star break, when Bryce Harper did not run out a double-play ball, Martinez said he spoke to Harper, but he did not bench him. He does not take these decisions lightly.
“It kills me more probably than it kills him. You never want to do things like that. You don’t,” Martinez said. “It hurts me. As he knows, I voted for him 250 times to get on the all-star team, and he knows that.”
The Turner play is also another example of how this team continues to test its rookie manager and force him to take stances on people. Martinez has had to answer the critiques of his relievers, defend his sometimes-sulking superstar, manage a flurry of injuries that poked holes in what looked like a championship lineup and stay positive as his team finds itself as far back in the division as it has been in three years. He has been willing to speak to the need for urgency and to admit that he sometimes thinks his team should show more of it. Turner, who is one of the most accountable players in the clubhouse after mistakes and his team’s losses, did not show that trait Monday night. Martinez benched him, and a new precedent has been set.
Turner probably could use the day of rest. Since the day he learned he did not make the National League all-star team and was announced as a candidate for the Final Vote, he is hitting .114, worst of any qualified shortstop in the majors. He has struck out 14 times in 47 plate appearances in that span, and he showed signs of frustration with several close calls — one of which hitting coach Kevin Long barked at Monday night, too. Long was ejected for that argument.
Whether correlation or coincidence, Turner’s slide has forced Martinez to move him down in the order to take the pressure off, although perhaps a day to reset will help him more than anything. The Nationals cannot afford to rest him much down the stretch. They have too much ground to make up, and Turner is one of those rare players who can single-handedly turn a simple groundball into a rally.
Harper, meanwhile, was a late scratch from Tuesday’s lineup with what Martinez called “a stomach thing.” Harper looked ill when walking around the clubhouse Tuesday afternoon. Michael A. Taylor will play center field in his absence.
Ryan Zimmerman will play first base for the second straight evening, even though Matt Adams is available to match up with Brewers right-hander Junior Guerra. Martinez said he wants to give Zimmerman a few starts in a row to find his offensive rhythm, something that is difficult to do for someone starting only against left-handed hitters.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS (49-50)
Adam Eaton RF
Anthony Rendon 3B
Bryce Harper CF
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Juan Soto LF
Daniel Murphy 2B
Wilmer Difo SS
Spencer Kieboom C
Jeremy Hellickson P
MILWAUKEE BREWERS (57-45)
Eric Thames RF
Lorenzo Cain CF
Christian Yelich LF
Jesus Aguilar 1B
Travis Shaw 3B
Tyler Saladino SS
Brad Miller 2B
Manny Pina C
Junior Guerra P