Michael A. Taylor collected two outfield assists, made a leaping catch in center field, and came inches away from a spectacular diving play in left-center field in Monday’s series opener in Miami.
Taylor also went 2 for 4 with a double and a two-run single at the plate in what ended up an 8-7 loss.
Dusty Baker was impressed, and he let reporters and Taylor know.
“I told him, I said, ‘Michael, you’ve done everything in this game,’” Baker recounted.
“He threw out two runners on the bases, he damn near caught that ball in left-center field, and the runner didn’t think he had a chance or I’m sure he would have doubled him up on the way back.”
Taylor went 1 for 4 with three Ks, a walk, two stolen bases and two runs scored in Tuesday’s 12-3 win over the Marlins.
His walk broke a streak of 62 plate appearances without a free pass.
Since taking over for the injured Adam Eaton in center in late April, Taylor, 26, had a .281/.316/.511 line at that point, with 13 doubles, two triples, eight home runs, nine walks, 61 Ks, and seven stolen bases in 46 games and 187 plate appearances.
He was penciled in for a start in the series finale in Miami, but then scratched about an hour before the 12:10 PM start time with Baker explaining that Taylor was actually, “... a little injured,” though he declined to comment about what was wrong with the Nats’ outfielder.
Baker didn’t offer any more detail after the Nationals’ disappointing late-inning loss to the Fish.
“He’s a little sore,” Baker told reporters who asked if he’d been available.
“He wasn’t available, that’s why I couldn’t pinch hit for any of my outfielders, because I didn’t have anybody to put out there, and that’s what happens when you’re playing with a four-man bench and one of them is your catcher, so we have to address that as well.”
Asked what the issue was again, Baker said simply, “I can’t tell you.”
Before the undisclosed injury was announced on Wednesday morning, GM Mike Rizzo was on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies talking about what’s changed for Taylor, whose struggles over the last few seasons led, at least in part, to the Nationals making the deal for Eaton this past winter.
“I think that he’s a calmer player,” Rizzo said. “I think he knows what he can do. I think he knows the type of player he is and I think he’s become comfortable with that.”
The type of player he is still strikes out a lot, with his 33.3% K% the second-highest among National League outfielders with at least 210 PAs, behind only the Brewers’ Keon Broxton.
“We’ve always said that once he can control the strike zone a little bit better at the plate he can become the player that we want him to be,” Rizzo continued.
“He’s always been — consistently throughout his career — he’s been a great defender, got a great arm, he can steal you a base, can really, really run, [and] he’s got big power.
“And the separator for him is that pitch recognition. His chase rate has gone down, which obviously allows him to put the ball into play more often and when he hits the ball and he barrels the ball up it stays hit, because he’s as strong and he’s got as much power as anybody we’ve got on this team and I think he’s believing in himself a little bit more, he is an older more experienced player now, he’s been through the league and he’s a guy that we’ve always had high hopes for and he’s been everything we’ve wanted him to be this season.”
On the season, Taylor has actually swung at a higher percentage of pitches outside of the zone (35.7% Z-Swing%, up from 31.1% last season, and 34.5% career), though his Z-contact% (number of pitches on which contact was made on pitches inside the zone/Swings on pitches inside the zone) is up slightly from 75.4% last season to 76.2% this season, and his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) is up significantly (.361 BABIP, up from .311, .319 in 2015 and ‘16, respectively).
Rizzo said he’s been impressed with the way Taylor has stepped up and filled in for Eaton after the season-ending injury changed the Nats’ plans for their outfield.
“Coming in in a tough situation where a really good player in Eaton goes down, it was an emotional time for us and he stepped right in there and he didn’t miss a beat and he kind of took the bull by the horns and said, ‘Hey, this is my job. I’ve got it. Don’t worry, guys, you don’t have to go out and get a guy, cause you have your guy right here,’ and he’s taken the job and done everything we expect him to do out of the eight-hole, which in the National League, as you know, is very, very difficult to hit in and he’s done a great job for us.”
“He saved us three runs the other night,” Rizzo added, going back to Monday’s win in Miami. “Throwing two guys out and making three great plays.”
The Nationals may not need to add an outfielder to replace Eaton, or now Taylor, in center, but like Dusty Baker said, right now, with Jayson Werth still sidelined, they could still use some depth, especially if Taylor’s going to miss any significant time with whatever is bothering him right now.