LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Baseball games do not lend themselves to being taken over the way basketball or football games do. Outside of the pitcher, who can dictate the course of a game, players do not touch the ball enough, nor do they get enough swings or defensive chances to take over. Exerting repeated influence, from inning-to-inning, takes some extra spark not every player has.
For four innings in Saturday night’s 11-1 win over the Braves, Michael A. Taylor took over. He went 3 for 3 with two doubles and made a spectacular charging-then-tumbling catch in center field. This is spring training; none of this counts. But he was playing against a lineup comprised mostly of Braves regulars — and he stood out.
Three-for-three nights happen and do not necessarily reveal some greater truth about a player. But the way Taylor got his hits showed some measure of maturation.
In Taylor’s first at-bat, against left-hander Manny Banuelos, he fell behind 0-2. Counts like those were not kind to Taylor last season, when low breaking balls tempted him more often than was helpful. On an 0-2 count, Banuelos threw a low breaking ball. Taylor kept his hands back and got enough of it to drive it through the shortstop hole. Asked about how his two-strike approach has changed from when he first came up, Taylor said he didn’t think it had. But he and hitting coach Rick Schu have both said a key for Taylor is sticking to that approach, every pitch, and executing it for the duration of at-bats.
One of Taylor’s doubles was crushed, a hard line drive deep into the left center field gap. He got jammed somewhat on the other, but still hit it hard enough that carried to deep left center. Taylor is now 8 for 18 (.444) this spring with those two doubles and a homer.
“Right now, I feel nice and slow at the plate, so I think that’s a good place to be,” said Taylor, who said he is seeing the ball well, recognizing the pitch, and feeling the game slow down for him.
Taylor does not have an easily defined role in the Nationals outfield when Jayson Werth, Ben Revere and Bryce Harper are all healthy. He can fill in defensively late in games, and start when Werth needs a day off, but has no predictable route to regular playing time with the Nationals roster constructed as it is. Dusty Baker said Taylor is “getting better and better,” and will work his way into a spot.
“He’s gonna play, it’s just a matter of when. He’s gonna play quite a bit,” Baker said. “When you have four quality outfielders and a couple other guys that are really good players, that’s the mark of a good team. You gotta have depth, and we certainly have depth.”
As Taylor went off, Tanner Roark held the Braves down. Throwing four innings for the first time this spring, Roark was, as he put it, “effectively wild” as he allowed one run on three hits and struck out three. He did not walk a batter, but fell behind in the count more than he wanted.
“They recognize what you’re throwing for strikes and what you’re not, that’s when you get in trouble,” Roark said. “But overall, got it done.”
Clint Robinson homered in the fourth inning, a massive, towering blast to right field off Braves prospect Aaron Blair. Tyler Moore also homered. Trea Turner went 2 for 3 with two line drive hits.
“I was pleased to see how Trea played well today, too. That’s a mark of what’s coming in the future,” Baker said. “Our offense was good. I was glad to see big Clint hit one a mile and T-Mo hit one. We had a very good offensive day. Good defensive day, and a very good pitching day. Boy. That’s what you call working on all cylinders.”