Taylor gourmet: center fielder stellar at offense and defense

Michael A. Taylor played the part of “super sub” Thursday, contributing on offense and defense to a help the Nationals earn a split of their four-game set with the Braves, 6-3.

Taylor smacked a solo shot and made a spectacular diving catch of a dying bloop shot off the bat of Kurt Suzuki as the Nats earned their 59th win of the season.

At the start of the game, both Taylor and Adam Eaton provided key outfield assists to prevent the Braves from scoring runs.

Manager Davey Martinez sighted the outfield defense as important to the victory and helping Gio Gonzalez eat outs.

“Oh absolutely,” Martinez said. “Michael out there, I’ve said this before, he’s a Gold Glover. But all the guys... I’m proud of all the guys, they played hard today. We got the lead, we kept the lead, it was a lot of fun.”

After catching a Freddie Freeman fly ball, Taylor doubled up Ozzie Albies in the first inning with a nice throw to first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

And in the third with Freeman on second base in the third with two outs, Nick Markakis drove a ball to deep right field. Eaton made a play and fired back all the way to home, where Matt Wieters made the catch and tagged Freeman out at the plate to end the inning.

“It was a perfect throw,” said Martinez. “Eaton came out and got the ball as soon as he could and fired a perfect throw. Matt stayed down and was able to put the tag on Freeman. So all-around good day.”

What made Taylor’s contributions timely was that he was a late pregame addition to the lineup after Bryce Harper was scratched due to a swollen knee and shin. Harper is listed as day-to-day.
Taylor’s solo homer in the fourth made it 3-1 Nationals.

“Huge, like I said, he had a good day,” Martinez said. “We’ll go to Chicago now and they have a couple lefties, so I’m sure he’s going to get an opportunity to play as well. I love Michael Taylor, I’ve said it before. We have to find ways to get him in there, it’s tough, but he’s a really good player.”

Taylor was put in the game late and had to face right-hander Aníbal Sánchez. But Sánchez went down to injury, so instead Taylor had to face right-hander Wes Parsons. That didn’t faze Taylor.

“I feel comfortable at either side,” Taylor said. “It’s just the way it’s been lately. Not really playing against lefties, but I feel like my splits are pretty good and I feel comfortable against both.”

Even still, Parsons was making his major league debut. Was it more difficult to face a pitcher you had not seen before when you thought all along it would be Sánchez?

Taylor-HR-Trot-Gray-Sidebar.jpg“It’s an adjustment,” Taylor admitted. “You don’t really have time to come back in and rewrite a whole new game plan. But just go out there and watch a little video and try to put together good at-bats.”

But Taylor’s calling card is his athletic ability on defense. His catch of the Suzuki blooper in shallow left field was a play very few center fielders could make. Taylor dove for the catch after sprinting full speed from deep center field.

“Those are a little tough to read,” Taylor said. “You see the big swing and then off the end you don’t really know how well he hit. It didn’t sound the greatest, so I knew it was going to be in front. You don’t want to coast, so off the bat I’m running as hard as I can, and then I’ll pull up at the end if I have an opportunity. Just kind of died in front so I had to run through it.”

Taylor dove and slammed to the turf on his chest. He held on to the ball. I asked him how it felt to make that catch?

“Not the greatest,” Taylor said. “For some reason you stick in that outfield, so just trying to make sure you make the catch, number one, and then try to protect yourself as much as possible.”

Is it harder to get ready to play defense versus hitting in spot starts?

“I think just a comfort thing is something that is tough to get in practice,” Taylor said. “It’s a little easier to replicate game reps off the bat in BP than it is seeing a live pitcher. I think defense is a little something that is a little easier transition into when you’re not playing as much.”

Later, Taylor went back on a ball to deep center field in the eighth off the bat of Freddie Freeman. He got a glove on the drive but was unable to haul that one in.

“It hurt more that I didn’t catch the play than it hurt my body,” Taylor said of the play. “So, feeling all right.”

And his club is “feeling all right” as they prepare for their matchup today at Wrigley Field. Going 2-2 against the Braves is not 3-1, but certainly better than 1-3.

“That’s big,” Taylor said. “I mean we want to come in and win every game. We’re not looking to at this point win series. It’s take it day-by-day and try to win every game.”

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