Following their 3-0 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday, the Nationals have now been shut out four times since June 10.
With the offense searching for some consistency, Nationals manager Davey Martinez decided to put Bryce Harper back into the leadoff spot in Thursday’s series finale against the Orioles, something he tinkered with earlier in the season when Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon were out of the lineup.
Martinez said the main reason was to try to jump-start Harper, who has hit only .125 (7-for-56) in the past 15 games, with 21 strikeouts and five walks.
“My thinking is, by hopefully putting him up top, he’ll start taking his walks again and we’ll get him going,” Martinez said. “I sat around here last night to wee hours trying to contemplate what to do. I like the lineup today. I really do.”
Martinez has had a lot of discussions with Harper about his recent downturn at the plate. But don’t call it a slump.
“I never call it a slump, I always call it a funk,” Martinez said. “I try to bunt a little bit more. I play games like, my first time up I’d take a strike. The second time up, I’d take a pitch, things like that. Just to kind of get me to see the ball better. The thing I tell Bryce is keep it simple.”
Martinez emphasized to Harper to look to work counts more in his at-bats, something he was able to do more so at the beginning of the season. Harper drew 37 walks in April, 10 in May and has only five so far in June.
“Keep it very simple and to take his walks. He went through this before.,” Martinez said. “The biggest thing is that he was walking. Now he’s not taking his walks. When he gets the ball in the strike zone like he did yesterday, hit the ball to first base at 107 mph. So when he gets the ball in the strike zone, he typically hits it pretty hard. So we got to get him in the strike zone. He’s dangerous.”
One bat that has been dangerous recently belongs to outfielder Michael A. Taylor. But with the emergence of Juan Soto and the return of Adam Eaton, Taylor has found his playing time diminished. Ironically, Taylor was on a hot streak when he saw his starts slow to a couple per week. Taylor has gone 7-for-9 in the last seven games and .444 (16-of-36) the past 15 contests, with one homer, six RBIs, eight stolen bases, four walks and seven strikeouts.
Taylor returns to the lineup tonight in center field, his first start since June 17 in Toronto. With the outfield jammed with talent and the bench without a backup middle infielder, I asked Martinez if he ever thought of giving Taylor games at shortstop or some other spot in the infield?
“You know what? That’s really funny you asked that because yesterday during the game, I talked to him and I said, ‘When was the last time you played infield?’ ” Martinez said. “And he said, did you see me take ground balls today? I said, ‘it’s just a thought.’ And he said, ‘I take them all the time.’
“We were actually talking about the five-man infield and if that ever came about, would he be willing to play infield. And he said, ‘Of course.’ I’ve thought about it. But we will see.”
Taylor came up as a shortstop, but never played the spot in 920 minor league games or in close to 400 major league contests.
And the bottom line: Martinez said that Taylor’s plus-plus defense in the outfield is extremely important and that he will find a way to get him in games.
“He’s such a valuable asset in the outfield,” Martinez said. “He’s going to play. He’s playing today and we are going to get him out there. He’s a big part of what we do.”