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Span, Escobar exit game vs. Reds with apparent injuries

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Span, Escobar exit game vs. Reds with apparent injuries

It has become an all-too-familiar scene for the Nationals, a player leaving a game early with an apparent injury. And when it happened twice on Monday night, to two of the club’s most-important and most-productive veterans, it could only leave everyone in the organization hoping neither Denard Span nor Yunel Escobar was seriously hurt.

The initial indications were that both players avoided any major injuries. Span departed in the third inning after a recurrence of the back spasms that have plagued him over the last month, while Escobar left in the fifth inning with tightness in his left hamstring (a new ailment).

Manager Matt Williams wouldn’t offer much of a prognosis for either player moving forward.

“It’s too early to speculate,” Williams said.

This much is certain: The Nationals sorely missed both Span and Escobar during Monday night’s 3-2 loss to the Reds. They managed only five total hits in the game, two of which came via those two injured veterans atop their lineup.

Escobar and Span entered the day as the NL’s sixth- and eighth-ranked hitters, sporting .314 and .305 batting averages, respectively. Their absences, along with the injuries that already landed Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth on the disabled list, left the Nationals a fraction of their true selves for most of Monday’s game.

Those remaining healthy players are trying not to use the injuries as an excuse for anything.

“There’s been a few hiccups this year with injuries, and that’s always demoralizing,” said right-hander Doug Fister, who spent a month on the DL himself with forearm tightness. “But it’s been, I don’t want to say good for the guys stepping in and filling in roles. But we’re playing OK baseball. We’re playing together and making things work. We’re without some of our top guys. But you know what? Guys are going in there and playing hard, and that’s what we need to do. Unfortunately we didn’t have Denard and Yuni tonight. Hopefully they’re back tomorrow. I’m not sure what any cases are, but we want them healthy and ready.”

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It wasn’t clear immediately whether Span or Escobar would be available for Tuesday night’s game, but if the events of recent weeks are any indication, Span would be more likely to return to play than Escobar.

Span (who left the clubhouse before reporters were let in following Monday’s loss) has been dealing with back spasms since June 7, when he first departed a game feeling discomfort. In the month since, he has either been out of the lineup or pulled early due to back problems, on seven separate occasions.

The Nationals have yet to find a solution to the recurring problem.

“We’ve changed programs,” Williams said. “He’s strengthening, he’s stretching, the trainers are doing everything they can possibly do. We’ll continue to monitor, continue to do what we’re doing. Some days it’s great, some days it just pops up on him.”

Escobar, meanwhile, has suffered five minor injuries so far this season, each time missing either one or two games, but never more. The veteran infielder declined to speak to reporters through a team spokesperson, but a source who spoke to him said he expects to miss “a couple days.”

Williams said Escobar hurt himself running out an infield single in the bottom of the third. He remained in the game two more innings before being lifted for pinch-hitter Dan Uggla in the fifth.

With the season now past the midway point, only two members of the Nationals’ projected Opening Day lineup haven’t been forced to miss at least one game due to injury: Shortstop Ian Desmond and catcher Wilson Ramos. Despite that, the Nats entered play Monday 10 games over the .500 mark, holding a season-high 4 1/2-game lead in the NL East.

“It’s a testament to all 25 guys out there,” said reliever Casey Janssen, who missed two games with shoulder inflammation. “We’re playing pretty good despite all the injuries. Unfortunate situations that we put ourselves into, but it says a lot about the guys in this locker room picking each other up. For the most part, we’ve been in every game. So that’s a pretty good sign.”

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Michael A. Taylor played winter ball to work on his hitting. Here's why the Nats are hoping it makes a difference

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Michael A. Taylor played winter ball to work on his hitting. Here's why the Nats are hoping it makes a difference

Michael A. Taylor went on an unusual hunt this offseason. He traded the serenity of fishing in Colorado or Florida, among his favorite pastimes, for the noise of the Dominican Winter League.

Taylor joined Gigantes del Cibao, a rare move for a player entering his age-28 season who has played the last four years in the major leagues. The visit to the Dominican Republic did not go well. Taylor hit .143, struck out nine times and walked once in 29 plate appearances. A small sample size, but also an indicator more work is necessary.

Everyone involved with trying to unmask Taylor’s clear talent knew change was necessary. Taylor is quiet, supremely athletic and has delivered eye-popping glimpses of what he can do on the baseball field. Whether that is running down a fly ball in the gap or driving an opposite field postseason home run in a chilled Wrigley Field, he has performed at a level which displays a high ceiling. Taylor has also regularly entered disturbing droughts where he looks overmatched and uncorrectable. Fixing him at the plate, to any degree, gives the Nationals options. They could deploy him or find a future trade partner.

Initially, he was reluctant to go to the Winter League. He previously planned to work with hitting coach Kevin Long in Florida. All parties knew that would happen. The idea to fly south took further development and convincing. Eventually, Taylor agreed. Among the driving forces for the visit -- from the team’s perspective -- was Taylor’s truncated playing time in the second half of the 2018 season.

“Because of the lack of at-bats he had toward the end of the season, it’s always important to see live pitching,” President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo said in December. “We thought it was important to get him one-on-one work with Kevin and really break down his swing and kind of give Michael a fresh start going into spring training.”

Reworking Taylor’s swing began when his appearances on the field all but stopped. Juan Soto’s emergence paired with Adam Eaton’s healthy return to jettison Taylor to the bench. The timing was difficult. Taylor hit poorly in April and May when Eaton was out and an opportunity was available. His .626 OPS and 65 strikeouts in 210 plate appearances showed what happens when things are dismal for him at the plate. His .864 OPS -- despite 15 more strikeouts in just 68 plate appearances -- in June was yet another pop of what could be. Taylor stole 10 bases in 10 tries during the month, meaning he stole a base 39 percent of the time he reached safely.

Then his playing time shriveled: 48 plate appearances, 43 plate appearances, 16 plate appearances in the final three months. His OPS declined each month, too. Taylor quietly walked around the Nationals clubhouse as the season dissolved.

Long started working with him once he was off the field. They tried to shorten everything Taylor did at the plate. The priority is contact. If Rizzo is to be believed, and Taylor’s past performances have shown this to be true to an extent, Taylor is a modest dose of consistency from being a versatile weapon in the major leagues.

“I believe, seeing him as much as I have, you’re talking about a dynamic player,” Rizzo said. “With adjustments, he could be a special type of big-league player. Gold Glove-caliber defender. He’s got a plus-plus arm that’s accurate. He throws a lot of guys out. He’s a terrific base runner, he’s a great base stealer, he’s got big power. If he figures out the contact portion of it a little bit better, you’re talking about a guy who could have five tools. He’s had flashes of it in the past and he just needs to be more consistent in his approach at the plate.”

Where he fits now is unclear. Taylor, presumably, is the fourth outfielder to be deployed as a base stealing and defensive replacement late in games. Perhaps he splits time with Victor Robles in center field. If Bryce Harper returns, Taylor’s future becomes even more clouded.

What he does have is another chance and big backer in manager Davey Martinez. The Nationals made an around-the-calendar investment in Taylor in pursuit of unlocking what they believe still has a chance to exist.

What Taylor doesn’t have is much more time. He’s entering his age-28 season, fifth full year in the major leagues and closing in on the end of low-cost team control. A warm winter trip doesn’t change those facts.

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Philadelphia and DC are both likely to get a dose of Harper - the winter storm - this weekend

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Philadelphia and DC are both likely to get a dose of Harper - the winter storm - this weekend

At least one Harper is on its way to Philly. 

But despite the hopes of Phillies fans, it's not the baseball player - at least yet.

For the second time in less than two weeks, parts of the Midwest and the Northeast is set to get hit with a major winter storm - which thanks to someone with a great sense of humor or baseball knowledge or just pure coincidence - is named Winter Storm Harper.

While this storm is no way related to Bryce Harper' s free agency (officially, at least), it does have some impeccable timing. And, it is set to hit a few of the places he's reportedly considering - including Philadelphia and DC (though it may just miss Chicago according to forecasts).

On Twitter, fans - and even Harper himself - took note:

 

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