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What’s next for the Nationals’ Trea Turner? Running a lot more

Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner (7) runs to steal second base during a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds at Nationals Park, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A few years back, Trea Turner went out for a slice of pizza. He was part of a small group hitting a spot in the D.C. area when the mayhem began. Other diners noticed the beard and well-coiffed hair, the wide shoulders and distinctive laugh. They had stumbled into a pizza shop occupied by Bryce Harper.

Turner was in the background. His wiry frame and boyish face allowed him to snap the moment and add to social media because he went unrecognized.

“I still go under the radar quite a bit, so I don’t have to deal with that,” Turner told NBC Sports Washington. “Sometimes I’m not jealous. Going out in public places and not being able to have a normal meal, normal slice of pizza is not always fun. If you get recognized you’re doing something right, though, in my mind. It’s kind of a plus and minus.

“Everyone deals with it different. Some people don’t want to be in the spotlight. Some people do. I think it just depends who you are. Just be yourself. Be happy and be yourself. If somebody does recognize me, try to enjoy that and say hello and do everything you can to kind of share in that experience, if they don’t, I get a chance to be by myself.”

Recognition of Turner was expected two seasons ago. Early 2017 projections for National League MVP candidates included him as an option, if a distant one. A late-June, 96-mph fastball hit his wrist, fracturing it. Turner’s season stalled.

He’s settled in now, coming off a season where he played all 162 games. His 4.1 WAR in 2018 was a significant return on his $3.725 million salary. Turner is 25 years old, arbitration eligible for the next three years, and part of what has become a dynamic swindle by Mike Rizzo. Turner arrived as the player to be named later in a three-team deal which cost the Nationals outfielder Steven Souza Jr. Souza has produced 5.8 WAR since; Turner 10.6. That doesn’t include Joe Ross, also acquired in the trade, in the equation.

Turner is searching for further uptick in his value this season. Nationals manager Davey Martinez wants Turner to reach 70, 80, even 90 steal attempts. Running that often has become an outlier. Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield led MLB with 55 stolen base attempts last season.

If Turner has a stock line, it’s that, “You can’t steal first base.” So, he starts there when asked about such an ambitious attempts total. He adds his hitting approach needs to remain quality and patient. The latter can often be a fight for him. Turner grapples with each hitter’s constant struggle: when to be patient, when are you too patient and into a bad count because of it, when to just let it loose. Turner hit a career-high 19 homers last season. But, his on-base percentage was .344.

Once he reaches first, whether to go is can be a matter of situation or flow.

“I think the score dictates a lot of things,” Turner told NBC Sports Washington. “Last year, we were behind quite a bit in games, so it’s hard to steal bases — you don’t want to give them an extra out. I think the season dictates that. If we play good baseball, there will be a lot of opportunities for everyone across the board. We’ll see, is my answer. I would like to attempt 80 or 90.”

“For me, it’s very fluid,” Turner continued. “Just like hitting would be or fielding would be. Sometimes you go through funks where sometimes, ‘Oh, I don’t feel good stealing base.’ Sometimes you feel like you can steal off anybody. For me, it’s very fluid, it’s just like the other facets of the game. I think when you get older you learn when to push it or pull back based on the score of the game or what your coach would like you to do.”

Referencing the coach made Turner smile. This manager wants him to go. Often.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.