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HOUSTON -- The explanation Justin Turner received when demoted eight days before the New York Mets broke spring training camp made sense but still stung.
Turner had done nothing to warrant failing to make the Opening Day roster of the New York Mets. Yet he was assigned to Triple-A Buffalo to open the season anyway.
Coaches Chip Hale and Ken Oberkfell told him as much, too.
|Turner's five RBI Sunday powered the Mets past the Astros and helped close out the series.|
"We both wanted him to know the circumstances were that we had a Rule 5 player, and that we wanted to give [Brad Emaus] a chance, and that he had done nothing wrong in big league camp to warrant not making the team So don't go down there and let getting sent down, which it does a lot, affect you and have a bad start," Hale said.
Added Hale: "We knew if he had a good start he'd be up as a second baseman or as a utility man."
Sure enough, the Mets gave up on Emaus, returning him to the Toronto Blue Jays, who spun him in a minor league trade to the Colorado Rockies. That resulted in Turner getting an April 19 promotion from Buffalo and a second-base platoon with Daniel Murphy. When Ike Davis then landed on the disabled list Thursday with a left-ankle sprain, Murphy moved to first base, and Turner became the full-time second baseman.
A May 25, 2010 waiver claim from the Baltimore Orioles, Turner had been spurned for a September call-up last season despite going 6-for-6 and hitting for the cycle on the final day of Buffalo's regular season. Now? Turner has taken off with the regular role.
After twice failing to put down a sacrifice bunt in the fifth inning Sunday, Turner made amends by sending the 1-2 offering from right-hander Aneury Rodriguez into the left-field corner for a two-run double. ("Trust me, I'd rather get the bunt down on the first try and not have to worry about it," Turner said.) An inning later, the 26-year-old Turner produced a three-run homer -- his first major league long ball -- to chase Rodriguez. The five-RBI day fueled a 7-4 rubber-game victory over the Houston Astros.
Turner upped his average to .308 through 39 at-bats this season with the 2-for-4 day.
Had Davis not been injured, Turner's lone start in the series likely would have been Saturday, when the Mets were facing J.A. Happ, the lone southpaw to start against the Mets in the series.
"When [manager] Terry [Collins] called me in the office in spring training, he basically told me, 'Go down and get your work in and be ready. You never know what's going to happen,'" Turner said. "I went down there, did my work and the opportunity came."
Turner had lost one of his biggest advocates in the front-office shakeup after last season. Wayne Krivsky, the former Cincinnati Reds GM, originally drafted Turner while with Cincinnati in the seventh round in 2006. When Krivsky landed in Baltimore's front office, he took Turner with him as part of a trade involving Ryan Freel that sent Ramon Hernandez to Cincinnati. As a special assistant to Omar Minaya, Krivsky then had the Mets claim Turner off waivers last May.
Krivsky remains with the organization post-Minaya because he had another year remaining on his contract, but he is now a scout rather than directly involved in decision-making, such as the end-of-camp cuts.
Still, Turner had another advocate as well in bench coach Oberkfell, who managed Turner last season with Buffalo. Oberkfell had wanted Turner to make the Opening Day roster.
"I just liked the way he played the game," Oberkfell said. "He played the game the right way. He did the little things. He handled himself very professionally. He played second as good as anybody we had down there playing it. He also had some games at short and third base. He's consistent. He doesn't get rattled. For a young player, that's pretty impressive."
As much as organizations maintain during spring training that competitions are wide open, the reality is players who have options remaining -- the ones who can be sent to the minor leagues without being exposed to waivers -- are at a decided disadvantage. Chris Carter found that out at the end of the 2010 spring training with the Mets, when he outplayed Mike Jacobs and Frank Catalanotto in camp and was the only one of the trio not to make the major league roster.
Turner found that out this spring.
The Mets' rationale: They could start the season with Emaus and turn to Turner later. But they could not go the opposite direction. Had Turner made the team, Emaus would have been returned to the Toronto Blue Jays immediately and not been available as the fallback. The more available options, they reasoned, the better.
Ultimately, it shook out favorably for Turner anyway.
"Everyone comes to spring training wanting to make the team, especially in that situation, when there was actually a position to be won," Turner said. "It was tough."