With three hits and two home runs in the first two games of the Nationals’ three-game set with the San Diego Padres, Michael A. Taylor improved to 29 for 92 (.315/.351/.543) with five doubles, two triples, four homers, five walks and 32 Ks in 24 games since he took over in center for Washington following Adam Eaton’s season-ending knee injury late last month.
Taylor has hits in 19 of those 24 games, and he hit home runs in back-to-back games this weekend for the first time since 2015.
So what’s working for the 26-year-old outfielder, who started the season 2 for 29 in the first 13 games this season, and has struggled when he’s been given the opportunity to play regularly in the majors earlier in his career.
“Just trying not to do too much, just stay relaxed at the plate, put together good at bats, stick to my approach,” Taylor told reporters after Saturday’s win.
Taylor’s home run off Padres’ lefty Clayton Richard came on a 1-2 fastball, leaving him 8 for 62 (.129/.169/.210) with two doubles, a home run, three walks and 41 Ks in 65 PAs in which he’s gotten to two strikes.
Asked about his approach in two-strike counts, Taylor said he’s just doing, “... the same thing I’ve been trying to do the last three or four years, just stay relaxed.
“It’s easier to when you feel good at the plate to kind of trust that, but know that you can let the ball get deep and still put the bat on the ball. I wasn’t able to do that my last at bat, I kind of got a little anxious, but it’s just a battle every day.”
Fill-in skipper Chris Speier, who managed the Nationals this weekend with Dusty Baker away from the team for his son’s graduation, was asked what he saw working for Taylor over this sustained stretch of success.
“It’s a combination,” Speier explained. “He’s got some confidence, that’s big. Pitch selection is huge, and I think the one thing is that he’s being aggressive.
“He’s got ability and as we’ve seen lately, he’s done a phenomenal job, but I think the aggressiveness is key for him.”
How to manage that aggression is also important, of course, and it’s something Taylor has been able to do over the last month-plus.
“It’s the goal of every hitting coach to have that type of player that has an educated aggression, controlled aggression,” Speier said.
“Being ready to hit in counts, but then having that ability to recognize the strike zone, and take it from me, it’s very difficult to do that.”
How has Taylor handled straddling the line between aggressiveness and patience?
“Just trying to stay in my zone, stick to my approach,” Taylor said on Saturday.
“Try not to do too much. My swing gets long when I’m thinking about driving the ball out of the ballpark. Just taking my singles and look for my pitch.”
In Sunday’s series finale with the Padres Taylor went 0 for 4 with three Ks, stranding two when he struck out with runners on the corners and two out in the second and striking out with a runner on second and one out in the fifth.
He stranded two more when he went down swinging in his final at bat of the day in the seventh, ending the day with a .265/.298/.444 line, five doubles, two triples, four home runs, six walks and 44 Ks in 124 plate appearances this season.
He did make this catch though: