Michael A. Taylor went 1 for 4 at the plate and made a potentially game-saving catch at the wall late in Thursday night’s series opener with the Philadelphia Phillies, which led to Washington Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker talking his outfielder up in the post game press conference following the Nats’ 4-3 win.
“Michael Taylor saved the game on that home run that he took away,” Baker said after Taylor’s catch on a long fly ball by Andres Blanco off the Nationals’ seventh inning arm, Brandon Kintzler.
“That was a tremendous play,” Baker added. “You’re used to seeing Michael do things like that in center field, because he’s becoming one of the best in the business.”
Taylor tried to back up Baker’s claims in Friday night’s game, singling, stealing a base and scoring in the second, hitting an inside-the-park grand slam in the Nats’ half of the third, (thanks at least in part to a poor read by Philly center fielder Odubel Herrera), and picking up his eighth outfield assist of the season in the seventh inning, cutting down Phillies’ outfielder Nick Williams at home to keep the Nationals up by three runs at that point, 10-7, in what ended up an 11-10 win over Philadelphia.
Taylor added an RBI triple in the eighth for what ended up being the winning run when the Phillies rallied for three runs off reliever Shawn Kelley in the ninth.
He finished the night 4 for 5 with two runs scored and five driven in.
Baker talked Taylor up some more before and after the second of four with the Phillies when he was asked about the center fielder’s development with the bat and glove.
“He’s on the way,” the veteran skipper and former major league outfielder said when asked about the strides Taylor has made on the defensive end in his pregame press conference.
“He’s certainly on the way, but an elite center fielder is uh—- you hear about being strong up the middle, they’ve been talking about that forever, catcher, your double play combination, and your center fielder, and that’s your backbone of your defense.”
“They take away a bunch of hits, a bunch of potential runs, or they let in a bunch of potential runs and either end rallies, or if they’re not that good, then they continue or start rallies.
“Michael is young, you have to like to run. You’re like a wide receiver on defense. You watch wide receivers in football they like to run, and they live to run, and so you’ve got be in great shape, you have to have good vision, you’ve got to have good anticipation, you have to know the potential sequence of the pitchers, you have to know when to play a little deeper, when to play a little shallower, when to take a chance at throwing a guy out or when to concede the run and keep the double play in order.
“He’s the backup to everybody on the field, except the catcher, he backs up the right fielder, left fielder, shortstop, second baseman.
“He backs every throw from the catcher to second base. If he’s going to be elite he can never go to sleep.”
As he’s picked up his game, given the chance to play on a regular basis, something that Baker suggested he take advantage of since not everyone gets multiple opportunities, Taylor has started to live up to the potential the Nationals saw in him for years.
Is he gaining confidence as he’s picking things up offensively and continuing to impress with the glove?
“Defense if you work at it that’s the easiest part of it if you’ve got skill. You can almost teach anybody to be better if they have the necessary components for the position, and plus you’ve got to take pride and you can not take — the thing about Michael, he doesn’t take his offense into his defense, which a lot of young players do.
“Hitting is the hard part, and the most fun part, you know, but I always took pride in defense, especially if I’m not getting any hits then you’re not going to get any either, that’s how I was taught to play defense, or if you take one of mine away and I’m going to take two of yours away.”
Baker talked after the Nats’ fifth straight win about Taylor’s big night in the nation’s capital.
“He took over offensively and defensively,” Baker said.
“He made a great throw to the plate. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an inside-the-park grand slam. But, man, that ball was hit a ton, that ball took off. And yeah, he had a great night, and we’re going to need more of those kinds of nights from Michael. He’s feeling good about himself, we’re feeling good about him.”
And his confidence level? Is Taylor any different from the relatively quite, modest player fans in the nation’s capital have come to know?
“No, he’s the same Michael,” Baker said.
“He should feel good about himself and he wants to feel better and close the season strong. The talent has always been there, and he caught some breaks.”
Unfortunately those breaks included injuries to Adam Eaton, and then Brian Goodwin, who played a solid center field while Taylor was injured this season.
“The talent has always been there,” Baker added, “and he caught some breaks from the very beginning.”
“It was a situation where he’s blessed by injuries to have this opportunity to shine.”
Baker, as mentioned above, has talked about Taylor seizing opportunities, and he’s done it thus far.
“This is what we wanted him to do. We’re not really surprised because the ability is there, it’s different if the ability is not there and you should be surprised, but the ability has always been there, so it was just a matter of him just playing aggressively, swinging at strikes in the strike zone, which he’s doing more and more of, and he’s — I don’t know — he’s realizing how quick he really is in all departments — and to slow the game down and let your ability take charge.”