WASHINGTON, D.C.:An excessive heat warning greeted the Dodgers when they arrived in St. Louis on Thursday night. Temperatures this weekend are expected to exceed 105 degrees each day with high humidity pushing the heat index into dangerous territory.
Justin Turner might not notice. He’s been hot for awhile.
Turner hit two home runs and drove in five runs in the first three innings as the Dodgers handed Stephen Strasburg his first loss of the season and beat the Washington Nationals, 6-3, Thursday afternoon.
“It’s almost like it’s not a hot streak anymore. This is just who JT is,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said.
It is certainly closer to who Turner was the past two seasons.
But Turner woke up on June 4 batting .220 with those three home runs and 16 RBI in his first 53 games this season. In 39 games since, he is batting .322 (46 for 146) with 10 doubles, 14 home runs and 39 RBI.
“Yeah, I’m definitely feeling comfortable again,” said Turner who had microfracture surgery on his left knee last October. “I’ve felt healthy all year. I don’t know what was going on those first two months. I feel good. I feel comfortable. Obviously (I’m) just getting better results. Those first two months I felt like I was taking good at-bats, hitting balls hard and not having anything to show for it.
“Confidence goes a long way, especially offensively. The timing feels good. I’m seeing the ball good. Like I said, I don’t think much is different from the first two months other than I’m finding some holes, balls are getting down. You get one or two hits early in a series, obviously you’re going to feel better about yourself. It’s a little easier to get hits that way. You find yourself 0 for 3, 0 for 4 in the first two games, you’re really scratching and trying to find a hit in that third game. That pressure builds up.”
Turner has said before he didn’t feel the knee surgery had anything to do with his slow start. But his spring training at-bats were limited somewhat by the Dodgers’ desire to ease him back and it seemed like it took awhile for the timing of his mechanics (including a big leg kick to start his swing) to get in sync this year.
“There’s a little bit [of that],” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “With that leg kick there’s a lot of moving parts. But JT figured something out a couple, two, three years ago with that swing and his mechanics. You can’t be hot all the time but that commitment he made in June has paid dividends.”
Turner took Strasburg deep on a full count in the first inning for a two-run home run then got the green light on a 3-and-0 fastball in the third. That three-run home run was his 17th of the season, a career-high. Turner had just three home runs in his first 214 plate appearances this season but has 14 in his past 160.
The early lead made for a comfortable return to the majors for rookie left-hander Julio Urias. Seeing his first game action since July 10 (a one-inning relief appearance in Triple-A) and first start since July 4, Urias gave up a run in the first inning before settling in.
But that inactivity and the Dodgers’ ongoing desire to limit Urias’ workload prompted Roberts to pull him after four innings and 77 pitches with a 6-1 lead. It was a long slog to the finish from there.
Roberts wound up using nine pitchers – Urias, seven relievers and Kenta Maeda as a pinch-hitter when Yasiel Puig left the game with tightness in his right hamstring. The seven relievers scattered a minefield of five hits, four walks and a hit batter along the way to the finish line, allowing runs in the sixth and seventh innings to tighten things up.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to get five innings,” Roberts said of a bullpen that has pitched 972/3 innings in the Dodgers’ past 25 games.
Puig’s departure further shortened a bench depleted by illness. Both Corey Seager and Yasmani Grandal were unavailable.
Roberts said after the game he didn’t know “the degree” of Puig’s hamstring injury. The outfielder was limited to 79 games last season due to multiple trips to the DL with injuries to both hamstrings.