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Michael A. Taylor injures left knee; could be big issue for Nationals if serious...

Michael A. Taylor left Thursday’s game after injuring his left knee on a diving play in the outfield.

MLB: Spring Training-St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Davey Martinez will tell anyone who asks how much he thinks of outfielder Michael A. Taylor as a player, and especially as a defender.

“I’m a big Michael Taylor fan, I am,” Martinez told reporters in December.

“His defense is the best, by far, in baseball. Nobody plays center field like him, so if we can get him to put the ball in play, he’s going to help us out a lot.”

Hitting coach Kevin Long said that he and Taylor started to work to change the 27-year-old’s swing late last season, when the outfielder wasn’t getting a lot of at bats down the stretch in a disappointing campaign at the plate (.227/.287/.357, 22 doubles, six home runs, 29 walks, and 116 Ks in 134 games and 385 plate appearances, over which he was worth 71 wRC+ and 0.9 fWAR).

“It’s the muscle memory,” Long explained, without detailing the changes. “It’s really, you’ve trained and you’ve done things one way for a lot of years, and you’re basically retraining how you go about it. So it’s going to be a bit of a process, and that’s why us being able to address that and work was huge.”

“We came up with kind of the blueprint and we’re going to follow that.”

The early start they got last season, Long said, was important considering the difficult work.

“We got to address quite a few of [the things] we wanted to work on this offseason, so he’s currently doing that,” Long said this winter, and Martinez liked the changes he saw early in Spring Training.

“I watched him take BP,” Martinez said last month.

“He’s cut down on his stride. Almost like a no-stride, which is kind of nice. He understands what he really needs to do, like I said before, I want him out in the field, you know why? Because we’re really good when he’s out there. He is one of the best center fielders in the game, he can steal bases, he runs the bases really well, but in order for him to compete and play out there every day, he’s got to put the ball in play, that’s the biggest thing for him. He’s got to understand who he really is. Does he want to be a 25-30 home run guy? Or does he want to be that guy that hits .270, wants to get on base, steals a bunch of bases, can get a guy in from third base with less than two outs, those kind of things, and we’re going to talk a lot this Spring, because he can help us, he can help us win a lot of games.”

Anything like the numbers he put up in 2017, a breakout season, but so far an anomaly in his career (.239/.293/.395 in five seasons), would be a welcome addition to the Nats’ lineup.

Taylor put up a .271/.320/.486 line, 23 doubles, 19 homers, 29 walks, 137 Ks, and 104 wRC+ in 118 games and 432 PAs over which he was worth 3.1 fWAR.

Taylor was off to a good start this Spring, something he’s done before in Grapefruit League action of course, going 9 for 24 (.375/.400/.625) with three doubles, one homer, one walk, and nine Ks in 10 games, and he was 0 for 1 with a walk on Thursday afternoon before he injured his left knee on a diving play in the outfield in the bottom of the second inning.

Taylor left the game after finishing up the second and sitting through the top of the third inning.

“His knee jammed right in the ground,” Martinez told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, after the game.

“And then his leg kind of twisted. We asked him how he felt, and he said he was getting stiff. I said: ‘Just come out then.’ It was just a weird fall.”

Zuckerman noted on Twitter that Taylor, who was limping in the clubhouse shortly after the injury, declined to talk to reporters.

“He’s going to be sore,” Martinez said. “We’re going to re-evaluate him tomorrow. But I took him out just for precautionary measures.”

If they lose him for any significant time, it would be a big blow for the Nationals, who were counting on sending Juan Soto out in left, Taylor or Victor Robles out in center, and Adam Eaton out in right this season after losing Bryce Harper to free agency over the winter.

The presence of Robles, who is expected to at least share the spot in center field with Taylor this season, would soften the blow of any serious injury to the outfielder, but the Nationals’ potential replacements are even more of a question than Taylor. Andrew Stevenson is the only other outfielder on the 40-Man roster (not counting Howie Kendrick, who’s played the outfield in recent seasons, but hurt his achilles last year while playing left and is nursing a hamstring injury right now), and non-roster invitee Hunter Jones is the other outfielder still in camp with the Nats this Spring.

The Nationals’ system isn’t exactly brimming with outfield prospects either. Will the official diagnosis on Taylor bring good news? Or will it reveal a problem that Mike Rizzo and Co. in the front office will need to address?