When the Nationals realized on Thursday that center fielder Denard Span would be lost for the season, they knew exactly who to turn to. Sitting on their bench was rookie Michael Taylor, the heir apparent at the position, who had mostly thrived this season while Span was recovering from injuries.
But then Thursday night's game transpired and Taylor himself got hurt. The 24-year-old slammed into the center field wall at Nationals Park after leaping on a full sprint. His cleat caught the bottom of the wall and ripped a hole in the green padding. With the contact his knee twisted and he was removed from the game.
The diagnosis was a right knee contusion and the consensus was that it could have been worse. The injury kept him out of Friday's game, but he was able to pinch-hit in Saturday's win. He then returned to the starting lineup on Sunday and played quite well. He had two hits, two runs and even made a running catch in center field, this time avoiding the wall.
It was a positive sign for the Nationals, who are still in the hunt in the NL East. Losing Span is going to hurt, but getting Taylor back and playing well will prevent that loss from becoming even more detrimental.
"No issues [with the knee],"manager Matt Williams said. "I think he’s measured in the things that he does on the field unless he’s really gotta go. Today, he really had to go and there was no issues with it."
"That’s scary anytime a guy plays chicken with the wall. That thing’s not moving, and fortunately he was not injured too badly," Doug Fister said. "He came back strong. He’s a big part of us as a team, and that’s a big thing for us for him to come back."
Taylor had to let the swelling go down before he could return to the Nats' lineup. The Nationals medical staff sent him home with a compression machine after the collision to help that cause.
Taylor is still not 100 percent, but he's getting there.
"It feels much better now. It's still a little swollen and kind of stiff, but everyday I think it will start to feel better and better," he said.
Taylor's two hits gave him his 24th multi-hit game of the season. He is now batting .243 with 13 homers, 55 RBI 39 runs and 15 steals. He's still a raw talent, but has proven what he is capable of this season.
"Mikey’s been huge all year," Clint Robinson said. "He's going to continue to go out and be our every day center fielder. He’s been huge for this team. He’s been having a really good rookie season, I think. He’s very important to us and he’s a heck of a player."
"He's been great. I can't say enough about the kid," Jayson Werth said. "He's been learning on the job. He's matured a lot this year. Last year he had a great year in the minors and came up. This year he's got a chance to play. It's been good to see his development and see the type of player he can be. There have been a lot of good signs from him, not only this season but for the future and seasons ahead. He looks like a big leaguer to me."
Taylor is still a rookie and is inevitably going to make mistakes as long as he is still learning. But just having him back in the fold improves the Nats' outlook for the rest of this season.