Michael Taylor was kept out of the Nationals’ lineup Friday night, not because his swollen right knee was preventing him from playing, but because manager Matt Williams had been looking to give the young center fielder a day off and felt the time was right.
With the Nationals scheduled to face a pair of Marlins left-handers — Justin Nicolino and Brad Hand — the rest of the weekend, Williams wanted to make sure Taylor got a day off now, giving him a chance to return for those more-favorable matchups.
“He’s played a lot,” Williams said. “We’ll just give him a day today and then [he’ll face] a couple of lefties the next two days.”
Taylor indeed has played a lot this season, far more than the Nationals originally planned. The 24-year-old would have been pegged to open the season as the starting center fielder at Class AAA Syracuse, but when Denard Span was sidelined by a variety of injuries, Taylor found himself staying in the big leagues the entire year.
He heads into the final two weeks of the season having played in 124 games, totaling 460 plate appearances (fourth-most on the roster).
Taylor’s production has dropped off some as the season has progressed: He’s hitting just .172 with a .479 OPS over his last 17 games, striking out 20 times. “I think he’s venturing out of the strike zone a little more than he has been,” Williams said.
The physical grind of a full season can take a toll on a young player, but Williams believes that’s less of a concern than the other challenge players like Taylor face near the end of their first full big-league campaign.
“I think when you’re young, you don’t really feel it physically,” he said. “The mental grind of the whole thing is something guys aren’t used to, unless you’ve been through it. Once you get through it, then you understand it. But I know Mikey, in particular, has embraced the opportunity and taken advantage of it. He’s played pretty well.”
Taylor currently owns a .234 batting average, .283 on-base percentage and .658 OPS, but his 14 homers rank seventh among NL rookies while his 61 RBI rank third.
There were plenty of questions about Taylor entering this season, with club officials needing to find out whether he would be ready to take over for Span in 2016. The Nationals appear pleased with what they’ve learned.
“I think he’s answered it,” Williams said. “I really do. I think he’s answered the question. He’s been productive. His average with runners in scoring position (.330) is really good. He’s showing the ability to cut the swing down in those situations, in particular. Hit a few homers. Stole a few bases. Played great in center field. I think that on-the-job training has been good for him. It certainly wasn’t the plan going in, but it’ll be good for him in the long run.”
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