Michael A. Taylor went 5 for 10 with three home runs over the weekend in Washington, D.C., leaving him with a .293/.325/.564 line, 14 doubles, 11 home runs, nine walks and 64 Ks over his last 49 games and 197 plate appearances since he took over in center field for the injured Adam Eaton in late April.
His high strikeout totals are still a concern, but Taylor is making the most of the shot he’s received with Eaton injured.
Dusty Baker was asked before Monday night’s series opener with the Chicago Cubs what the perception of Taylor around the baseball world is these days.
Does the opposition know what kind of run the 26-year-old outfielder has been on in the last two months?
“They know,” Baker said. “They know he’s a tremendous talent. Everybody knows. They see him run, throw — I remember talking to Lenny Harris and Andre Dawson and those guys down in Miami and they said, ‘Man, this guy, he’s got some talent,’ and they were saying sometimes against them he was looking like an All-Star, like Willie Mays or somebody, but then you look on the stat sheet and you see the average and the strikeouts and it doesn’t compute and match up with the talent level that’s there and that you see.”
“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,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last week.
“Because he’s always been — consistently throughout his career, he’s been a great defender,” Rizzo said.
“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.”
Baker said Monday that he watched a player recently who reminded him that Taylor’s recent surge after he struggled in previous opportunities isn’t unprecedented.
“I was looking at Boston, the Red Sox the other day,” Baker recalled, “and they said the same thing, that’s where Jackie Bradley [Jr] was the year before and see everybody -- you don’t get it at the same time. Sometimes you’ve got to be patient and let a guy get it.”
Taylor has received multiple opportunities to claim the center field job, or any spot in the outfield mix with the Nats, but previous attempts to lock down a role fell short.
“He’s been fortunate enough, with our patience, which a lot of people got on me last year for even sticking with him — Any of them in here, in this room in here?” Baker asked reporters.
One writer in the pregame press conference did raise his hand.
“At least that’s an honest man, I like that,” Baker joked.
“Sometimes that’s the only way to get it out of them, because everybody doesn’t get it at the timetable that we want them to get it on, and does he have it to stay yet?
“We still don’t know.”
Baker reiterated what he told Taylor when Eaton first found out he’d suffered a season-ending injury. You don’t get second chances all that often, nonetheless third or fourth chances, so he wanted the outfielder to make the most of the latest one.
“I told Michael that he’s one of the most fortunate dudes that I’ve managed, because every time something was about to happen to him, somebody would get hurt...”
Baker acknowledged that it seems like the game has slowed down for Taylor, allowing him to do what he’s capable of doing for a sustained stretch.
The former major league outfielder turned manager was asked what it’s like for a player when things slow down.
“Exactly what it means,” he explained. “It means you have more time.
“It’s about concentration. You get to a concentration-level, everything slows down. It’s slow to some people in the beginning. Imagine how slow the game was to Barry Bonds, and Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle, and some of these guys, and I remember at times when the ball was like it stopped, and there are other times when the ball is a blur, you know, so what it means is a matter of concentration, focus, and relaxation, but a controlled aggression.”
Taylor went 2 for 4 with a double and run scored in the series opener with the Cubs, leaving him with a .277/.308/.521 line, 15 doubles, and 11 home runs in 63 games and 224 plate appearances overall.