Trea Turner returns to Washington, good times in mind and brighter days ahead

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For a moment Monday afternoon, after he confessed to feeling few emotions about returning to Nationals Park, Trea Turner’s eyes softened. The shortstop looked from the visitors’ dugout to the direction of the home clubhouse. Asked about the World Series run in 2019, he mentioned Max Scherzer, Gerardo Parra and Brian Dozier, maybe picturing them shirtless and covered in booze. Or perhaps Turner thought about wearing his North Carolina State football helmet while sipping from a tall bottle of tequila, his Washington Nationals bound for it all.

Those were good times, weren’t they? Where did they go?

“I try to keep an even keel — don’t get too high, too low type [of] deal,” Turner said before facing the Washington Nationals as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Just in everyday life, enjoy each and every moment and then move on and try to continue to have fun. But, yeah, the moments like that make you look back, reminisce, think about what you’ve been through and where you come from and are definitely special. By no means am I out here crying. I don’t feel emotional about it. That’s just who I am — trying to take it moment by moment.”

This was Turner’s first game in Washington since the Nationals traded him at last summer’s deadline. The same went for reliever Daniel Hudson, who was dealt to the San Diego Padres and is now in the Dodgers’ bullpen. Before the series opener, the Nationals played a video tribute to them, ending with Hudson throwing the final strike of the title-clinching win. Turner and Hudson tipped their caps to a light crowd that was still filing in.

Then Turner, batting third behind Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, jogged into the dugout. Then it was time for a matchup of familiar faces.

“I try to keep up with Juan [Soto] and Patrick [Corbin] and the guys and see what they’re doing, [Josh Bell] … how they’re playing,” Turner said. “You look at the box score, and you see so many different names that I never played with. A lot has changed, but that’s what happens in the business of baseball. There is turnover, and there are guys trying to prove themselves and earn their spot, and that’s what’s going on over there.”

Keibert Ruiz is good at making contact. Maybe too good.

Turner reiterated that he was surprised by the blockbuster trade. Before it, he was never shy about wanting to stay in Washington if the numbers lined up. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2014 but quickly sent to the Nationals in a deal that’s now famous around here. He debuted for the Nationals in 2015. South Florida is home, but D.C. grew into a close second.

It was weird, then, to walk into the stadium and turn left for the other clubhouse. He chatted with former teammates and coaches during early batting practice. At 5 p.m., he hugged Dave Martinez, his old manager, behind the cage. And ahead of his first at-bat, there were scattered cheers and pockets of fans standing.

Goodbye can be awkward, as Turner learned from being traded while on the covid-19 injured list. But hello again can be, too.

“A lot of guys thought they were going to be traded,” Turner said while reflecting on the 2021 deadline. “Max had to waive his no-trade clause, and some of the relievers … they were on one-year deals. But I didn’t necessarily know I was going to get traded until … the week of it. So I think it just caught me a little off guard. I don’t think it was a bad thing by any means. I think I’m in a really good spot on a really good team with a chance to win a World Series.”

In that first plate appearance, Turner grounded out against Nationals starter Joan Adon, bringing Betts home. Turner, 28, entered the day with a .290 batting average, a .354 on-base percentage and a .413 slugging percentage. He had 11 doubles and two homers, waiting for that power spark to complement his blazing speed. He was tied for sixth in the majors with eight stolen bases.

Without Turner, the Nationals’ offense is a shell of what it was, leaning on Soto, Bell and Keibert Ruiz, the top prospect sent to Washington for Turner and Scherzer. Alcides Escobar is the starting shortstop, and the long-term plan there is unclear.

Stephen Strasburg, Joe Ross to start minor league rehab assignments Tuesday

The roster is reflected well by the club’s 14-28 record entering Monday, good enough for last in the National League East. Turner is in his final season before he can hit the open market. His free agency is unlikely to overlap with the spending phase of Washington’s rebuild. Besides, trading him in the first place was a veiled admittance that his value had soared past what ownership could offer in extension talks, though now the Lerner family is exploring a sale of the franchise.

Turner offered little when pressed on where he could end up in 2023. The truth is that he doesn’t know, given all that could happen in the coming months. But if he had to choose a teammate to plot his future with — not a club or a city — Turner has his choice. And if nothing else, he and Soto will share the field again in matchups like this.

“If that guy’s on your team, you guys are lucky,” Turner said. “I think Nats fans obviously know that, and I think a lot of the country knows that. … If there’s one person I could play with again, for sure it would be him.”

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