WASHINGTON — Michael A. Taylor made the Washington Nationals’ Opening Day roster without a defined role, and was the odd man out as soon as the team needed a fifth starter on April 8. He was optioned to triple-A with no clear path back to the Major League roster.
The injury bug provided the solution. First Adam Eaton, then Jayson Werth were lost for prolonged periods of time with leg injuries. Taylor got yet another chance to prove he could play at the Major League level.
“I told Michael that he’s one of the most fortunate dudes that I’ve managed,” Nats skipper Dusty Baker told the media in June. “Because every time something was about to happen to him, somebody would get hurt.”
Finally thrust into everyday duty, Taylor proved just how valuable he could be, actually leading baseball in several hitting categories over a multi-week stretch.
“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 general manager Mike Rizzo told 106.7 The Fan in June. “He’s always been — consistently throughout his career, he’s been a great defender.”
But then the injury bug bit back, shelving Taylor with an oblique strain immediately following the All-Star break. A notoriously tricky injury, Taylor missed nearly five weeks preparing for his return to the big league roster.
He went to bed early last night preparing for an early morning flight to D.C. and missed the injury to Harper that gave him an immediate spot back in the lineup. Now, instead of replacing Brian Goodwin in the starting lineup, he reclaims his spot in centerfield while Goodwin shifts to right field.
“I wanted to first get healthy and then get to the point where I could come back and feel good at the plate, just get my timing back,” he told the media before Game 1 of the double header on Sunday. “I missed quite a few games, so I was just trying to get back my rhythm and timing.
“I feel good now. The body feels great and I’m just ready to go.”
Taylor had an accelerated rehab process in the minor leagues, actually playing both ends of a double header yesterday, saying he felt “really good” in his at-bats.
He showed that comfort at the plate on Sunday.
In Game 1 of the team’s doubleheader vs. the San Francisco Giants, Taylor replaced Goodwin midway through the game and did not register any at-bats.
In Game 2, he started in centerfield, smacked a double in three at-bats and made a pair of sensational defensive plays on defense, including one to gun down Giant Joe Panik at the plate:
As he has done before this season, Taylor rejoins the team at a critical juncture and provides the type of production that the Nats expected from the outfield. The Nationals are now close enough to start eyeing the postseason, but Taylor said his focus will be the same as it was earlier in the season.
“I’m just ready to play like it’s May, June, July,” he said with a smile. “I’m just happy to be back and playing.”