Trea Turner will miss at least six weeks, testing the Phillies’ depth without their most dynamic player

PHILADELPHIA – Trea Turner knew it. He acknowledged that he had done a good job of fooling everyone at the time, but thirty minutes into a Philadelphia Phillies win that cost Turner at least six weeks, it was harder to conceal his concern. Rob Thomson found Turner in the Phillies clubhouse and put his hand on his shortstop’s shoulder. A few teammates reassured Turner.

Then they all knew. Turner was faced with a significant absence due to 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 perhaps reflects how lucky the Phillies are. Turner’s season isn’t over yet. The strain in his left hamstring was significant, but not severe enough to require surgery. If all goes according to plan, he could return in mid-June. The Phillies have several choices to fill their middle infield. They are coming off wins to start this season and entered Saturday with the best record in baseball.

It could have been worse. But these weeks without Turner will be a challenge.

“It’s hard,” Thomson said. “It’s losing one of the best players in the game. But we’ve been through this before. People just pick up on it; That’s why we have 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 start practice at shortstop; it has been 546 days since he recorded an inning there. Sosa won’t play every day. If Stott slides down the field, Whit Merrifield would see more time at second base.

Maybe that’s the scenario the Phillies opt for later this month. For now, it’s Sosa, a capable defenseman who stepped up to the plate with more at-bats last season. The Phillies signed Merrifield with the idea that he could slot into the lineup somewhere if an injury forced the club’s hand. They will postpone that for the time being.

Whit Merrifield 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 Friday evening after word spread that Turner was discouraged about how he was feeling. The veteran volunteered to work at shortstop – a position he hasn’t played since college – to give the Phillies another option. “He’s a good teammate,” Thomson said. Merrifield at shortstop is not realistic. But the Phillies know that a combination of Merrifield or Sosa collecting Turner’s at-bats is feasible. Thomson will do more matchup hunting depending on the opposing pitcher.

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

“He’s a stud,” Merrifield said. “He’s playing incredibly. Yes, it’s a bummer. It’s a big blow. But fortunately the season is not over. 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 guys everywhere.”

Filling a shortstop is one thing. Finding the right right-handed hitter for Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper is another problem. Thomson chose JT Realmuto. He didn’t want to disrupt Alec Bohm, who owns an eye-popping .426 on-base percentage, from his productive spot as a cleaner. One of the right-wingers – be it Realmuto or Nick Castellanos – will have to step up in Turner’s absence.

Realmuto had an on-base percentage of .288 on Saturday. Castellanos’ was .242. The National League average on-base percentage is .315. Turner led the Phillies with 27 runs scored in 33 games as he reached base before Harper and Bohm. He was the prototypical No. 2 hitter for this lineup.

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

JT Realmuto hit .265/.326/.474 in 119 games as his team’s second hitter. (Harry Hoe/Getty Images)

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

So this whole thing is going to require some experimenting. And patience. The Phillies have dealt with extended absences of star players over 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 raised his game; He hasn’t performed well at the start of this season and is a natural to take charge now.

But replacing Turner is impossible. He is the most dynamic player on the roster. The Phillies are losing a stolen base threat at the top of the rankings. They are fourth in the NL in slugging percentage and in Turner’s absence the best way to survive is to stack extra base hits.

Turner will remain with the Phillies while he recovers. The longest season he has ever missed came in 2017, when an errant throw broke his right wrist. He lost 59 days. He missed six weeks in 2019 when he broke a finger on a bunt.

He has been healthy ever since. Saturday afternoon he was still absorbing the shock.

“I’m doing good right now,” Turner said. ‘But I’m sure I’ll be sick after two or three days. It’ll be hard to watch. But I’ll try to help where I can. Talk to guys. I am of course still working on them.”

The Phillies recalled Kody Clemens, a lefty hitter who will add depth to the bench. If the Phillies want to hit for Sosa with a righty on the mound late in a game, Clemens could do that and then move to second base while Stott moves to shortstop. That’s just one hypothesis.

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

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

It’s better than looking for bodies.

“He can do a lot of different things because he obviously gives you height,” Thomson said of Turnbull. “But he gives us another guy to beat right-handed hitters, because we’ve struggled a little bit with that. I have the confidence in him to put him in the right place, so I think this is the right choice for now.”

The season has its waves. The first five weeks have been smooth for these Phillies, who own one of the better 33-game records in franchise history. Now they are having a setback.

There is one silver lining.

“My year isn’t over yet,” Turner said.

(Top photo: Katie Stratman/USA Today)

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