PHILADELPHIA – The at-bat took 10 tones, and in the end, there were different ways to parse it. Hit up Trea Turner on a Sunday afternoon. From the dugout, Phillies manager Rob Thomson agreed. “I’ve seen a really good bat,” Thompson said. Kevin Long, the club’s veteran hitting coach, was no different. He thought Turner could be happy that every pitch he swings was in the zone—except for the last play, a tricky down-and-in slider.
“Or you can look at it another way,” Long said, “and I know how he’s going to look at it.”
Long has known Turner for years, and during the worst slump of the star’s brief career, he worked as a coach and therapist. “I know he’s really hard on himself,” Long said. Appears in any conversation with Turner.
“I suck,” he said Monday afternoon.
He chased 37 percent of the pitches he saw out of the area—the highest rate of his career—and that’s primarily due to his .256/.303/.390 hitting streak. Turner hit 55 times in his first 45 games. It was the most he ever put out in any 45-game stretch.
He said, “Honestly, I’ve probably never played this bad in my entire career.”
Turner reviewed that 10-pitch hitter with Long after Sunday’s game against the Cubs. He saw the slider he missed.
“Good show,” Turner said. “I’m fine with swinging on that slider. But, as for me, I was so pissed off about missing six fastballs in the area. That’s what I feel like it’s been like the whole season.”
Back to the original problem – stalking.
“I think a little bit of that kind of doubled down on me for that,” Turner said. “Like any time in my career I’d think, ‘Okay, let’s go into the middle of the area and not stalk and swing on good pitches,’ and then miss pitches that I have to hit. I’ve always been aggressive when I’m right. My head is still. I see the ball.” I’m ready to hit it all.
“So I think a little bit of that was. Trying not to chase, trying to walk. And I don’t think that’s the player I am. There’s a fine line. Obviously I want to walk. I don’t want to chase. The question is: how do you achieve that? How do you do that? That’s what I’ve been fighting against.”
Long view, the transformation from batting coach to handler, his evaluation.
“At this point, I honestly think he’s not quite comfortable yet,” said Long. “He wasn’t comfortable. Once he got there, everything fell into place. But no Try It might be too much sometimes. So he’ll come to terms with it and he’ll start to feel more comfortable and relaxed in his own skin.”
It had been 33 days since Turner came to bat with runners in scoring position and hit a home run. In that span, he made 23 appearances for the Racers in scoring position. hit 11 times. It often looked like someone trying to atone for weeks of poor results in one fell swoop.
“I think it’s normal, right?” said Kyle Schwarber. “When you come to a new place and you’re going to be here for several years, you want to make a good statement about yourself. When you feel like you’re not living up to your expectations, you get in the way. And I’m not saying that to him. I’m saying I felt that way last year at some point.” A year early when I was fighting.”
Finally, Turner mustered a hit on Monday night with a runner in scoring position. He fouled a couple of pitches in the area, then slapped a slider off the plate in right field for a single scoring run. It did not change the outcome of the game, losing 6-3 to the Diamondbacks.
Everyone around the Phillies has been waiting to see the dynamic version of Turner. And in the list of interests generated by the 22-25 starting season, Turner ranks low. There is confidence in the proven track record that earned Turner a $300 million deal last season as one of the best players in the sport.
Turner, after that one-and-ninth walk Monday, hasn’t declared himself flat. “My first three bats were mostly rough,” he said. “Just this consistency I’m talking about. When I can do it for four or five rackets in one day and then for a week and then a month, I’ll feel a little better.” But he thinks his swing has been fine for two or three weeks.
It’s a matter of making better decisions now.
“I’ve been taking advice from everyone and their mom in the last couple of weeks,” Turner said. “I don’t mean it in a bad way. You know, people see me struggling and want to help. It’s been good seeing how many people really care or care. Not just people at the club. Just people who know me in general. It’s hard when you’re struggling. It’s like, Hey, let’s try this. Let’s try it. Let’s try this.’ You keep bouncing, you keep bouncing, you keep listening. At the end of the day, you have to play better.”
This is something Long has modified. Last Saturday, Turner didn’t play for the first time all season. Thompson considered it a hard reset. But Turner spent extra time in the cage with Long for weeks. “We went really hard,” Long said. “Our workload was just a bit too much at times.” So, with this reset, Long backed off.
He told him, “Trea, you know how to do this. I’m giving you a bunch of information. We’ve tried. Let’s just have faith in what you’ve done and your ability. Let’s see where that leads us.”
This stuck with Turner.
He said, “Exactly.” “You have to listen to yourself. And that doesn’t mean all these people I’ve talked to haven’t given me great advice, you know? Like I keep saying, I sucked. I haven’t really found a way to play better or be more consistent. And that’s kind of what I’ve done it my whole career – just be consistent. Don’t strike out. Put the ball into play. Do this stuff. And I just haven’t done it. That’s why it wasn’t great. I think it’s just on me, man. I have to play better.”
Turner heard boos from the Phillies crowd on Sunday. He doubled down on his last stroke, but today it still felt empty to him. The booing arrived again Monday night when he grounded out in the fifth inning. I’ve known Turner long enough to understand his way of thinking. He is not satisfied with a few powerful balls caught. It is results oriented. The blows drive Turner crazy.
His stalking rate increased from 26 percent in 2021 to a career-worst 33 percent in 2022. And it only intensified in 2023. This is a worrying trend.
“Every year you kind of realize you’re a different player,” Turner said. “Your body is different — not in a good or bad way. You may have created a habit and now feel strong in this area and weak in this area, or vice versa. So you just deal with what you have, right? I feel good sometimes, and ( Sunday) I felt great. But then, what the hell was I doing on my first three strikes (Monday)?
“This is the most frustrating part. I’ll be so lost and then I’ll feel good and then I’ll be so lost. That pisses me off. I hate it.”
The Phillies trust Turner, and when the breakthrough comes, it will be something to watch. They’ve been waiting for it longer than anyone expected. It’s just one reason this whole thing doesn’t feel right heading into June.
Before Monday’s game offered some positive signs, someone suggested it might be the day things change for him.
“Well, I said that every day for 30 days,” Turner said. “So …”
Maybe Tuesday is the day.
(Top photo: Bill Streicher/USA Today)
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