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Turner puts slow start in rearview, clubs 3 HRs

LOS ANGELES -- A couple of weeks back, perhaps as a way to ease whatever concerns were beginning to creep in, Los Angeles Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman informed his third baseman, Justin Turner, that he had only three career home runs through the first month of a baseball season, a stretch that by April's end had spanned 429 at-bats.

Turner smiled at that memory late Tuesday night, after blasting three home runs in the Dodgers' 9-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

"Not sure what that's about," he said, "but definitely glad that month's over."

Turner, who didn't hit his first home run of the 2019 season until the final day of April, recorded the first three-homer game of his career and the team's first since Yasiel Puig last September, lifting the Dodgers on a night when Hyun-Jin Ryu required only 93 pitches to twirl a shutout.

Turner turned on a chest-high, 94 mph fastball from Max Fried and hit it out to left-center field in the first, then crushed a down-the-middle, 88 mph fastball from Josh Tomlin and lifted it to straightaway center in the fifth. He came up one last time, with two on and two out in the bottom of the eighth, and hit another 88 mph fastball out to left-center, the three home runs totaling 1,209 feet and averaging 102 mph off the bat.

"He's been one of the best hitters in the National League for four or five years," Dodgers right fielder Cody Bellinger said of Turner, who added a run-scoring single to give him a career-high six RBIs Tuesday night. "It was nice to see him barrel some balls up."

Turner carried a .364 on-base percentage through April 25, but his batting average was only .250 and his slugging percentage was only .284. He was displaying sound pitch selection but was missing opportunities to do damage.

So Turner began toying with his leg kick and the way his shoulders were positioned when his front foot hit the ground.

"Just trying to find something that clicks, and I think I've found something right now," he said.

Over his past 10 games, Turner has 17 hits in 41 at-bats, six of them for extra bases. His OPS has jumped from .649 to .825, which falls in line with the usual timing of his production. The 34-year-old tends to heat up as the calendar flips, his career OPS going from .730 in April to .774 in May to .892 in June.

His manager, Dave Roberts, is well aware.

"I wish we had an answer," Roberts said when asked for an explanation. "We would turn it a little bit sooner."