May 25, 2024

Trea Turner to miss at least 6 weeks, testing Phillies’ depth without their most dynamic player

PHILADELPHIA — Trea Turner knew. He admitted that he did a decent job of fooling everyone in the moment, but 30 minutes after a Phillies win that cost Turner at least six weeks, it was harder to hide his concern. Rob Thomson found Turner in the Phillies’ clubhouse and put his hand on his shortstop’s shoulder. A few teammates reassured Turner.

That’s when they all knew. Turner faced a significant absence with a strained hamstring.

“It could have been a lot worse than it was,” Turner said Saturday, two hours after receiving his diagnosis. “It is what it is.”

That it could have been worse reflects, perhaps, how lucky the Phillies are. Turner’s season is not finished. The strain in his left hamstring was significant, but not serious enough to require surgery. He could return in mid-June if everything goes according to plan. The Phillies have different choices to fill their middle infield. They have banked wins to begin this season and entered Saturday with the best record in baseball.

It could be worse. But these weeks without Turner will be challenging.

“It’s tough,” Thomson said. “It’s one of the best players in the game you’re losing. But we’ve been through this before. People just pick it up; that’s why we’ve got a team.”

Edmundo Sosa, the 28-year-old Panamanian reserve, will have the first crack at shortstop in Turner’s absence. The Phillies will have Bryson Stott begin to practice at shortstop; it’s been 546 days since he logged an inning there. Sosa will not play every day. If Stott slides across the field, Whit Merrifield would see increased time at second base.

Maybe that’s the scenario the Phillies choose later this month. For now, it’s Sosa, a capable defender who was exposed last season at the plate with increased at-bats. The Phillies signed Merrifield with the idea that he could plug into the lineup somewhere if an injury forced the club’s hand. They’ll delay that — for now.

Whit Merrifield has started nine games in left field, four at second base and two at third base for the Phillies. (Denis Poroy / Getty Images)

Merrifield texted Thomson on Friday night once word spread that Turner was discouraged about how he felt. The veteran volunteered for early work at shortstop — a position he has not played since college — to offer the Phillies another option. “He’s a good teammate,” Thomson said. Merrifield at shortstop is not realistic. But the Phillies know a combination of Merrifield or Sosa collecting Turner’s at-bats is viable. Thomson will do more matchup-hunting depending on the opposing pitcher.

Life without Turner could be worse. It is still going to hurt.

“He’s a stud,” Merrifield said. “He’s been playing incredible. Yeah, it’s a bummer. It’s a big blow. But, fortunately, it’s not season-ending. That’s why it’s a long season. That’s why it’s important to have depth — to have players who are ready to step in. We have a lot of those guys. We have dudes everywhere.”

Filling shortstop is one thing. Finding the proper right-handed hitter to slot between Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper is another issue. Thomson settled on J.T. Realmuto. He did not want to disrupt Alec Bohm, who owns an eye-popping .426 on-base percentage, from his productive place as the cleanup hitter. One of the righty hitters — whether it’s Realmuto or Nick Castellanos — needs to perform in Turner’s absence.

Realmuto carried a .288 on-base percentage into Saturday. Castellanos’ was .242. The average National League on-base percentage is .315. Turner led the Phillies with 27 runs scored in 33 games because he was reaching base ahead of Harper and Bohm. He was the prototypical No. 2 hitter for this lineup.

“Hopefully, J.T. can fill the void there,” Thomson said.

J.T. Realmuto has hit .265/.326/.474 in 119 games as his team’s No. 2 hitter. (Harry How / Getty Images)

Realmuto had not batted second since April 14, 2022. Joe Girardi was the manager then.

So, this whole thing will require some experimentation. And patience. The Phillies have faced prolonged absences from star players in the past two years. Thomson was the interim manager when Harper took a pitch to the hand and broke his left thumb. It was then, in the summer of 2022, that the Phillies formed an identity. Schwarber elevated his game; he has not performed well to begin this season, and he is a natural person to take the lead now.

But replacing Turner is impossible. He is the most dynamic player on the roster. The Phillies lose a stolen-base threat at the top of the order. They’re fourth in the NL in slugging percentage and, in Turner’s absence, the best way to survive will be to stack extra-base hits.

Turner will remain with the Phillies while he recovers. The longest stretch of a season he’s ever missed came in 2017 when an errant pitch fractured his right wrist. He lost 59 days. He missed six weeks in 2019 when he broke a finger trying to bunt.

Ever since, he’s been healthy. He was still absorbing the shock Saturday afternoon.

“Right now, I’m OK,” Turner said. “But I’m sure after two or three days, I’ll already be sick of it. It’s going to be tough watching. But I’ll try to help out any way I can. Talk to guys. I’m still in it with them, obviously.”

The Phillies recalled Kody Clemens, a lefty hitter who will give the bench more depth. If the Phillies want to pinch hit for Sosa late in a game with a righty on the mound, Clemens could do it and then go to second base with Stott moving to shortstop. That is just one hypothetical.

The roster pieces are moving around in the first week of May. The six-month grind is something that always looms. It is why Spencer Turnbull, barring something unforeseen, will move to the bullpen beginning Sunday. He’s been a surprise contributor, but the Phillies want to see what Taijuan Walker looks like as the fifth starter.

And, in the bullpen, the Phillies could use another trusted righty reliever. Turnbull could evolve into that. Or he could return to the rotation later. Everything is possible, which is how it should be in May. The Phillies want to keep every door open.

It’s better than scrambling for bodies.

“He can do a lot of different things because he gives you length, obviously,” Thomson said of Turnbull. “But he gives us another guy to get on right-handed hitters because we’ve struggled a little bit with that. I have the confidence in him to put him in leverage (spots), so I think for the time being, that’s the way to go.”

The season has its waves. The first five weeks were a smooth ride for these Phillies, who own one of the better records through 33 games in franchise history. Now, they have adversity.

There is one silver lining.

“My year’s not over,” Turner said.

(Top photo of Trea Turner: Katie Stratman / USA Today)