WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - While attention was focused Saturday on Adam Eaton - and rightfully so, given the major injury he was returning from - Michael A. Taylor also was playing in his first big league game in a while and actually tested his body more than his fellow outfielder did.
Taylor, who had been out since March 4 with tightness in his right side, returned to the Nationals lineup and played six innings in center field while taking three at-bats. He singled, stole second with a headfirst slide and then advanced to third when the throw got away. He also made a diving attempt at a sinking liner in left-center field, landing hard on his side but emerging with no physical ailments.
“I should probably take it a little easy, so I don’t end up on the DL again,” Taylor said with a laugh. “But I want to play hard, and my body feels good. So I want to play 100 percent.”
Taylor had been playing in minor league games over the course of the last week, so it’s not like he was being thrown right into the fire. But the fact he felt comfortable enough diving and sliding in his first big league game in two weeks was plenty encouraging to Nationals manager Davey Martinez.
“You let him play and let him feel for what he wants to do and doesn’t want to do, but he looked great,” Martinez said. “We’re going to keep him that way until March 29.”
While Eaton and Taylor looked good in their return to the field, Tanner Roark struggled in his abbreviated start on the mound.
Scheduled to go five innings, Roark lasted only three before he reached his pitch limit of 75. The trouble came in the top of the second, when he allowed three runs, faced eight batters and lost his command for a prolonged stretch.
Roark walked three straight batters at one point, adding a run-scoring wild pitch to the mix, as well. He insisted it wasn’t anything to get too worked up about, though, suggesting he might’ve gotten out of the inning sooner if not for some borderline ball/strike calls by plate umpire Paul Nauert.
“I thought I made a couple pitches; they thought otherwise,” the right-hander said. “And (Mets hitters) were being pesky up there at the plate, fouling stuff off and taking good pitches. Hats off to them.”
Martinez concurred with his pitcher, who needed 41 pitches to get through the second inning.
“Balls were pretty close, so it wasn’t like he was all over the place,” the manager said. “So I was pleased he got his work in. He went out there and finished 70-some pitches, and I was happy.”
Roark’s velocity did appear to decrease, especially during the third inning when the stadium radar gun had a couple of fastballs registering 87-88 mph. He was adamant that nothing was physically wrong with him, though, saying he actually felt the best he has all spring.
“It could have been that 40-pitch inning that brought it down a little bit,” he said. “But I felt great.”