The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Daniel Murphy is progressing, while Michael A. Taylor scratched with mild right side tightness

Michael A. Taylor has side tightness. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

JUPITER, Fla. — Two hours before the Washington Nationals were scheduled to start their game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday afternoon, Manager Dave Martinez wandered into the clubhouse and delivered a message to Andrew Stevenson. Stevenson started packing his bag for the bus ride to Jupiter, a trip he hadn’t intended to make.

Michael A. Taylor had been scheduled to make that trip, to hit third and start in center field. He was a late scratch with what the Nationals called “mild right side tightness,” which he revealed to Nationals coaches Monday morning after swinging in the batting cage. Taylor missed a month of the 2017 season with a right oblique strain. “Right side” basically equates to “right oblique,” and oblique injuries generally equate to “four to six weeks.” But no one with the Nationals has shared a prognosis like that for Taylor yet.

“We aren’t going to take any chances with it right now; just take him out and let him heal up, get better, and see where it goes,” Martinez said. “I’ll know more probably tomorrow.”

While Stevenson replaced Taylor in the lineup in the short term, any long-term injury could open the door for Victor Robles. Martinez and General Manager Mike Rizzo have made their stances on Robles clear: Wherever he plays, he must be able to play every day. The Nationals’ initial outfield plans included Taylor in center, Adam Eaton in left and Bryce Harper in right. Eaton has not yet played in a spring training game, and as of Monday morning, Martinez indicated he wouldn’t do so any time soon.

While the Nationals have capable short-term options in Brian Goodwin, Matt Reynolds and even Howie Kendrick, any long-term absence of either Eaton or Taylor could prompt them to give Robles a chance. Since being called up last September, the 20-year-old has played unafraid and unabashed — and looked entirely ready for a full-time opportunity.

Kendrick and Reynolds will likely be called on to fill in for Daniel Murphy, who seems unlikely to be ready for Opening Day as he rehabs from microfracture surgery on his right knee. Murphy is still wearing a brace, but Martinez reported Monday that the second baseman has begun hitting off a tee and side toss — both of which represent progress, none of which signals the Nationals will rush him. As with Eaton, they seem likely to wait out both players as long, or longer, than necessary.

The extent of Taylor’s injury will likely be more clear after Monday’s game, when Martinez addresses the media again. In the meantime, Stevenson hit his first home run of the spring as Robles started in center field in Taylor’s place in the Nationals’ 2-1 loss to the Cardinals.

  • Joaquin Benoit made his spring debut Monday, one that included positives and negatives. The positive takeaway was his velocity, which hovered around 93 and 94 mph. The negatives were the results, which consisted of two runs on three hits and one strikeout.
  • Matt Adams continued his hot hitting, knocking a single and a double in front of a St. Louis crowd that gave him a nice ovation. Adams had spent his entire major league career with the Cardinals before being traded to the Atlanta Braves last season.

Read more on the Nationals:

In two spring games back from injury, Bryce Harper has looked like a former MVP should

Free agent signee Matt Adams is happy to be with Nationals: ‘He’s a little giddy right now’

Nationals closer Sean Doolittle is more than just his fastball

Kevin Long is the Nats’ hitting coach. Son Jaron is a pitcher. They’re rooming with Mom.

Stephen Strasburg started this spring much the way he ended last fall