Michael A. Taylor was 0 for 3 with three Ks before he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning on Sunday night and hit a first-pitch slider from Pat Neshek out to left field and off the foul pole for a two-run home run that lifted the Washington Nationals to a 6-5 advantage a half-inning after the Nats’ bullpen blew another late lead to Philadelphia’s Phillies.
“I was just hoping that it hit the foul pole,” Dusty Baker told reporters after the win, “because it looked like it was headed foul.”
“We got a break finally against these guys, because they played us really, really tough.
“Whenever they needed a hit they got a hit. If we walked somebody they scored. But, my guys kept battling and battling and we finally came out on top.”
Taylor’s home run, his second of the season, came after the Nationals dropped the first game of the doubleheader with the Phillies, blowing a 3-1 lead in the ninth.
He hit his first home run of the season in Wednesday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles in D.C., sparking a late rally by the Nationals that ended a three-game slide.
Taylor went 2 for 4 with the home run, a two-out RBI single and two Ks in what ended up a 7-6 win.
“Mike needed that game,” Baker said afterwards. “He’s been struggling lately, making contact.
“That was a big home run that he hit, that was a big two-out RBI that he drove in and so hopefully — and he was in the eighth spot, which is a tough spot to hit in, but he rolled the lineup around a couple times and so we’re all pulling for Michael A. Taylor and so that would be big for him and us if he could start rolling.”
The previous two nights, Baker hit for Taylor late, turning to Brian Goodwin in a two-on, two-out, situation that called for contact in the ninth on Monday night, and Adam Lind, who hit a three-run, game-tying home run late in what ended up a loss an extra innings loss on Tuesday.
Taylor was in the midst of a tough 2 for 19, 10 K stretch at that point, and his manager talked once the Nationals got back home about how he’s assessing Taylor since the 26-year-old outfielder took over in center following Adam Eaton’s season-ending injury.
The pressure is on Taylor to claim the job in center for his own, something he struggled to do given opportunities in the past.
“There’s always a need to impress until you’ve established yourself for a while,” Baker explained.
“It takes more than a couple weeks, because you can have a couple bad weeks and then you un-impress people. It’s got to be a daily grind.
“It has to be a daily thought process, you know, and so, Michael was looking good for a while, then was looking bad for a while in the Phillies series, then he started looking good again.
“At this point you want to try to be as consistent as possible so that I’ll know what to expect, and I’ve talked to him and I’m saying, ‘Hey, man. I’d rather not have to be in a situation where I have to hit for you, because it makes our team — on the defensive side —- weaker,’ and then he said soon, he hopes, the day comes when he impresses us so much that I won’t have to take him out.”
Taylor went 7 for 16 with a double, two home runs, four runs scored, and six Ks in four games on the recently-completed homestand, leaving him 18 for 54 (.333/.368/.556) with four doubles, a triple, two home runs, three walks and 21 Ks in 57 PAs over the 14 games since Eaton went down.
So what’s going right for Taylor during the good stretches of plate appearances?
“His pitch selection is better,” Baker told reporters after the first of three with the Phillies on Saturday night.
“Not swinging at as many balls as he was in the dirt or up over his head. If you get them in the strike zone, then you’ve got a good chance of putting wood on the ball.
“That’s what I’m seeing.”