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Dave Roberts on Trea Turner’s Dodgers debut: ‘He’s a pretty special player’

Dodgers infielder Trea Turner runs after popping up a hit while the catcher looks up.
Dodgers infielder Trea Turner reacts during a pop-up hit in the ninth inning against the Angels on Friday.
(Michael Owens / Getty Images)

Trea Turner paced the length of the Dodgers dugout a few times in the eighth inning Friday night, the team’s newest addition looking somewhat anxious in a tie game between the Dodgers and Angels.

Turner, the infielder who was acquired from the Washington Nationals with pitcher Max Scherzer on July 30, had cleared COVID-19 protocols and was added to the active roster about an hour before the game.

He did not start, but with the pitcher’s spot in the batting order nearing and reserves Billy McKinney and Cody Bellinger having already been used, it was clear that Turner was about to make his Dodgers debut and take his first at-bat in a game in 10 days — a tall task for even a player of his All-Star stature.

The Dodgers finalize a deal that will bring them Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner from the Washington Nationals.

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“I think he was antsy most of the night,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Turner. “He’s a very intelligent ballplayer, so when you start seeing how the game is playing out, there were a couple opportunities early, from the sixth inning on, where we might have gone to him.

“So he was trying to stay in tune with me and Bob [Geren, Dodgers bench coach] and be ready when called upon.”

That opportunity came to start the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied 2-2. When Turner was announced as a pinch-hitter, most in a Dodger Stadium crowd of 50,822 rose to their feet and greeted him with a rousing ovation.

José Iglesias hit a go-ahead double in the 10th after homering earlier, and the Angels won 4-3 to drop the Dodgers to 1-12 in extra-inning games this season.

Turner swung at the first pitch from Angels reliever Austin Warren, an 85-mph slider, and sent a long fly ball toward the left-field corner that was foul. He swung hard at the second pitch, a 92-mph fastball, and popped out to the catcher. The Dodgers went on to lose 4-3 in extra innings.

“He took some good swings,” Roberts said. “He didn’t come up with a hit, but you can tell he’s a pretty special player. You would have never known he didn’t have an at-bat in 10 days, because that first one, he cleared the slider out, and he just missed a fastball in the zone. For me, he got two good swings off.”

Roberts said Turner would start on Saturday night and Sunday against the Angels and would spend the rest of this season as the team’s primary second baseman while filling in occasionally for shortstop Corey Seager, the reigning World Series and National League Championship Series most valuable player.

Turner has played shortstop exclusively for the last five years, and Roberts considers him a “premium” defender at the position, but Turner also played second base and center field earlier in his career.

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The clock is ticking on the Dodgers’ divisional dominance, and Andrew Friedman knew it when he pulled off the most important trade of his career.

“He embraced it,” Roberts said of Turner’s reaction to the position switch. “Obviously, his choice is shortstop. He sees himself as a shortstop, as he should. But understanding our roster, second base certainly made sense for him, and he understands it gives us the best chance to win.”

After the trade-deadline deal, Roberts said he wanted to speak with Turner and “look him in the eye” before making any lineup decisions. That conversation took place Friday with Andrew Friedman, the team’s vice president of operations.

“Basically, we asked him his preference on the defensive side, knowing that we view him as a premier shortstop and a superstar player,” Roberts said. “But we value Corey at shortstop, and Trea’s potential versatility with his athleticism allows for a couple of things.

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“His preference was to stay on the dirt, which makes sense to me. I want to make sure Trea is comfortable. This is something different for him, as far as the trade. Getting him comfortable is really important for him and the Dodgers.”

Clayton Kershaw said Friday he doesn’t expect to pitch for the Dodgers until early September because of elbow inflamation. He has been out since July 7.

The addition of the speedy Turner, who is batting .322 with an .890 OBP, 18 homers, 49 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 96 games, moved Mookie Betts from second base, where he started the three previous games, back to right field.

Super utility player Chris Taylor, who has played shortstop and second base, will split his time between center field and left field while occasionally spelling Justin at third base.

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The player who stands to lose the most playing time is Bellinger, the slumping center fielder who will now assume more of a platoon role, starting mostly against right-handers. Left fielder AJ Pollock may lose some at-bats as well.

“Every single night there’s gonna be a great player who is not getting the start — that’s just where we’re at,” Roberts said. “But right now, we have to win games. We’re four games back [in the division] and we have to win. I need to put the best guys out there every night who I feel can win a ballgame.”


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