Trea Turner figured it was a breaking ball, spinning into the zone, so he hung in the batter’s box to attempt a bunt against Zach Eflin on Tuesday night.
But it was instead a fastball that broke Turner’s right index finger, just one inning into the fourth game of the Washington Nationals’ season. The injury will sideline Turner for the foreseeable future. Manager Dave Martinez had no timetable for his return following an 8-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park.
The team placed Turner on the 10-day injured list Wednesday morning and recalled infielder Adrián Sanchez from Class AAA Fresno.
“It’s a loss. It’s a big loss. He’s our starting shortstop,” Martinez said. “But we got to keep going. [Wilmer] Difo is getting an opportunity, and he’s here for a reason. So just have to come back tomorrow and play baseball.”
“Anytime you lose your starting shortstop for an extended period of time, especially a player as talented as Trea, it’s tough to swallow,” Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “The season doesn’t stop for anybody. You just have to keep going."
Turner, 25, appeared in every game for the Nationals last season. He is one of their most important players, slick in the field, dangerous on the base paths, versatile batting second with the potential for 20 home runs. In the first three games of this season, he already had two home runs and four steals in four attempts. His absence will be felt, for however long it is, and comes nearly two years after another high-and-tight fastball put him on the shelf.
That one was thrown by Chicago Cubs reliever Pedro Strop, in June 2017, and led to a fractured right wrist. Turner missed the next two months. Eflin’s pitch Tuesday led to X-rays that revealed a non-displaced break, only compounding the Nationals’ early struggles. Matt Adams also left the game, with back spasms, after falling over a railing along the first base line in pursuit of a foul ball. He is day-to-day.
“I don’t expect somebody to basically throw at my head, so for me when I see a ball in that kind of tunnel, first thought is slider," Turner said, his right index and middle fingers bound together by a bandage. "Maybe started up and in and tried to get it for a strike. Tried staying in there with a bunt, and it just kind of kept running.”
The Nationals were inching back to full strength, with Howie Kendrick expected to be activated from the injured list Thursday and Michael A. Taylor set to begin a rehab assignment Friday.
Kendrick is working back from a mild left hamstring strain suffered while running to first base March 5. Taylor is recovering from left knee and left hip sprains suffered while making a diving catch March 14. Both give the Nationals considerable depth off the bench — Kendrick in a utility role, Taylor as a fourth outfielder — and their absences had handcuffed Martinez to start the year. Martinez is without two right-handed pinch hitters. His reserve outfielder, Andrew Stevenson, is not an option to spell Victor Robles in center the way Taylor is. Kendrick is working out with the Nationals and will be evaluated across the next couple of days. Taylor has yet to play in the outfield during his recovery, and he will for the Class AA Harrisburg Senators at the end of the week.
Meanwhile, the Nationals’ depth will be an issue. Washington’s next game is 1:05 p.m. Wednesday, against the Phillies and ace Aaron Nola, and the Nats will look to get an infielder to Washington by first pitch. That’s complicated by the location of their Class AAA affiliate, but Sanchez was summoned anyway.
“We’re going to try to get hopefully somebody here by game time,” Martinez said. “The turnaround is quick, so we’re hoping he arrives.”
Turner’s production is impossible to replace either way. His absence will force Martinez to juggle a lineup he wanted to keep set — possibly moving Brian Dozier up to the second spot — and use Difo as a full-time starter. Difo, a career reserve, has had a few opportunities as an everyday player: first when Turner fractured his wrist in 2017, then for parts of last season at second base. He has shown, continually, that he has the glove and arm to excel as a major league fielder. His bat remains the question mark, with a career .250 average, coupled with a .310 on-base percentage, in 901 plate appearances. The need for him at shortstop takes him out of a utility role that also included second base, third and center field.
Turner was hoping it was just a dislocated finger, an injury he has never suffered. He couldn’t move it as he yelled “Damn it!” and started for the dugout, before he soon received unwanted results in the trainer’s room. Turner was asked after the game if he had misplaced his hand on his bat, putting his right finger in danger as Eflin’s fastball tailed toward him.
“No," he said. "The pitch was near my face.”