Michael A. Taylor’s 53 games played in 2019 were the fewest he’s played in the majors since back in 2014, when he debuted in D.C., but the Nationals’ now-29-year-old outfielder got an opportunity to help Washington in the postseason, when Victor Robles suffered a hamstring injury and was unavailable.
Taylor ended up playing in eight games during the club’s run to a World Series win, starting in five, and going 7 for 21 (.333/.391/.619) with two home runs, one more than he’d hit in 97 plate appearances for the Nationals in the regular season.
While coming off the bench is never easy, Taylor told reporters before Saturday night’s exhibition game in the nation’s capital, that he’s gotten used to just being ready whenever he’s called upon to play, as he was with Robles still unavailable for the matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies, as he awaits clearance to return after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month.
“I think over the years,” Taylor said, “I’ve learned a lot as far as being flexible and not really knowing what role you’re going to be in, and this year my focus has just been being ready to play whatever role that is and just going out and enjoying the game.
“So, whatever tomorrow has, it has, but today, I’m playing and I’m excited to play. Excited to get out there and just play the game and have fun.”
Having success last October, and contributing down the stretch for the Nationals, helped to boost the ‘09 6th Round pick’s confidence.
“Any time you have success on the field it should build confidence,” he explained.
“I’ve been playing for a little bit now,” Taylor added, “so I’m confident in myself, and I know I can play at this level.
“It was nice to have the opportunity to play in the playoffs, and help the team, and I just look forward to that opportunity this year.”
Working to get ramped up for the start of the 2020 campaign this coming Thursday, Taylor’s fellow outfielders, Juan Soto and Robles, were unavailable for the first two weeks of three in Spring Training 2.0, but he, Taylor, said that they’ve played together enough that they don’t have to worry about building a rapport like new teammates would in Spring Training, or lack of communication being an issue down the road.
“We want to have them out there and I know they were champing at the bit to get out there,” he explained, “but as far as my preparation, I feel like I played with those guys enough and the communication is there.
“We kind of know how the guys are going to move and what we like to do out there, so there really wasn’t much missing as far as us preparing as an outfield.”
Taylor and his teammates (and players around the league) have, however, only had three weeks to ramp up after Spring Training came to an end in mid-March.
Four months later, they’re being asked to get ready in a hurry so that they can play the 60-game campaign July-September, with the postseason in October as usual.
“It hasn’t been too challenging to get up for the games,” Taylor said of intrasquad and the exhibition games they’re using to get ready.
“You’re still playing baseball, you still have that competition going on. It’s a little easier to communicate in the outfield, which is nice. It’s dead quiet out there.”
Will it be an advantage for outfielders, who will be able to hear the ball off the bat and judge it that way, whereas you’re usually battling to hear it over the sound of the crowd?
“I think it’s easier when you can hear it clearly off the bat,” Taylor said.
“Sometimes, especially in the playoffs when it gets really loud, you don’t really hear it and sometimes you’ll hear it delayed.
“With the empty stadium and quiet like that it makes it easier.”
So at least there’s one positive about coronavirus keeping fans out of the stands, at least at the start in 2020.