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Nationals’ Michael A. Taylor on hitting rock-bottom in LA, putting together good at bats

Michael A. Taylor struggled through a rough 2016 campaign, but learned some tough lessons he said might help him in the future.

Michael A. Taylor started the night of June 22nd in Los Angeles with a .243/.279/.405 line on the year, 10 doubles, six home runs, nine walks and 54 strikeouts in 54 games and 183 plate appearances.

Taylor struck out five times in five plate appearances that night, and to make things worse, the 25-year-old Washington Nationals’ outfielder misplayed a one-on, one-out single to center off Yasiel Puig’s bat into a walk-off winner for the Dodgers.

"It was probably one of the toughest days that he'll remember probably the rest of his career because we've all had them,” Dusty Baker told reporters after the loss, when he was asked what he said to Taylor.

"It was a very tough day. I think he struck out five times and I'm sure he feels terrible and we've got to stay with him, we've got to give him some love, because right now he's probably feeling like the loneliest guy on Earth."

“Honestly, I think that day in LA actually made it better for me,” Taylor told reporters this past weekend at Nationals’ Winterfest when asked about the error.

“Because after that, I mean, it maybe didn’t get much better, but I was like, ‘This is rock bottom. It can’t get much worse than this.’

“It took a little pressure off me and having the team rally behind me definitely helped a lot, because every day you’re thinking about the guys around you too when you’re going through it.”

Taylor went through a lot in a rough 2016 campaign that started with a strong Spring Training (24 for 53, .453/.491/.849, six doubles, five homers, four walks and 15 Ks over 20 games).

His Grapefruit League success didn’t carry over to the regular season, however.

Taylor, 25, put up a .231/.278/.376 line, 11 doubles and seven home runs, 14 walks and 77 Ks in 76 games and 237 plate appearances, finishing the season at 0.4 fWAR.

“For me personally, it was a pretty disappointing season,” Taylor said.

“I came in with things I wanted to work on, I felt like I had a good Spring Training and got lost somewhere after that. But, it’s part of the process, and I’m here and I’ve got another season coming up, so I’m looking forward to that and making some changes and moving forward.”

He didn’t have any explanations for why it was all downhill, for the most part, after Spring Training.

“I spent a lot of time with the coaches throughout the year,” he said. “It wasn’t like I stopped trying and stopped working on it halfway through. My mechanics and things like that were great. My mindset and mental approach at the plate, I think, changed somewhere after Spring. Maybe putting too much pressure on myself, trying to control the results instead of going out there and putting together a good at bat.

“These are things that I talk about all the time, but then when the season gets going you want to have a good year and you want to put up numbers and help your team win ballgames, but I think my focus needs to be a little bit smaller than that.”

Making adjustments in-season is tough, Taylor explained, especially as the season goes on and the struggles continue.

“Every day you want to go out there and have a positive day and help the team win,” Taylor explained, “but like I said, for me, personally, it needs to be smaller than that, just take it one at bat at a time, have a good at bat, battle with two strikes, put the ball in play, and things like that and I think at the end of the day I’ll have the results that I want.

“But when I was going through it, I’m looking up there and it’s .180 or .189 or whatever and I’m like, “I want to get three hits today,” and you can’t go up there thinking that.”

He did get help along the way, from the Nationals’ manager and from his teammates.

“He passed on a lot,” Taylor said of Baker.

“He tried to help me through it and he’s played the game, so he knows the pressure and things that go into it. He was huge. I went down the cage a bunch with him and just worked on my swing. And not only him, but [Rick Schu] and [Daniel Murphy], and a lot of the guys, [Jayson] Werth and Jacque Jones, a lot of guys helped me this year.”

Taylor’s 2016 campaign ended on something of a high note when he was added to the Nationals’ postseason roster in spite of his regular season struggles and in spite of the fact that he injured his thumb on a slide into second base late.

Baker’s decision to include him provided a boost of confidence.

“Definitely. Like I said, I was battling to the end trying to fix my swing and I felt like the last two games right before I got hurt I put together some good at bats,” Taylor said.

“I made some changes in my swing and it was nice they noticed that and I think they saw that and they had enough confidence in me to put me on the roster.”

With the addition of Adam Eaton, Jayson Werth under contract for one more season and Bryce Harper in right, Taylor’s looking at a crowded outfield in 2017, and he said the experience of playing on a part-time basis late last season and watching others in the same situation was beneficial.

“Definitely. And I’ve learned a lot this year going through that, watching [Chris] Heisey and some of these guys that had some success. Stephen Drew is amazing at it, and it’s the same thing that I work on when I’m playing every day. It’s going out there and not trying to do too much. If you have one at bat, don’t go out there and try to hit a home run, just get on base or move a runner and do whatever the team needs you to do, so I think I learned a lot as far as that goes.”

Will the Nationals keep him around in the majors as a fourth outfielder? Will he return to Triple-A to get regular at bats and continue his development? What does the future hold for Michael A. Taylor?