Martinez insists Taylor will play despite recent stretch on bench

Michael A. Taylor white close.jpgThere has been no more productive hitter on the Nationals roster over the last two weeks than Michael A. Taylor. Since June 6, he’s sporting a monstrous .545/.600/.636 offensive slash line, tops on the roster in each of those categories.

So why has the hottest hitter on the team started only six of the team’s 12 games during this stretch, none of the last three?

The answer involves a combination of recent matchups with opposing pitchers, the emergence of Juan Soto as an offensive force in his own right, the return of Adam Eaton from injury and the desire to keep giving Bryce Harper opportunities to snap out of his prolonged slump.

Davey Martinez has been saying Taylor will continue to get his at-bats, and the manager reiterated that point today. But there’s no denying that Taylor has become the odd-man-out in this unexpected, four-man outfield logjam.

“It’s definitely hard,” Martinez said. “I’ve had a conversation with him, and I’ve told him it’s a long season and he’s going to play. It just so happens right now that we’re facing some guys who are pretty good against right-handed hitters. And we’ve got a lot of good left-handed hitters.”

The Nationals tonight are facing their seventh consecutive right-handed starter, and they’re scheduled to face another Thursday in Kevin Gausman. Given the fact the club’s three other outfielders all bat left-handed, Taylor gets left out.

And given how well Soto (1.013 OPS in his first 26 career games) and Eaton (.911 OPS in 17 games so far this season) are hitting, Martinez understandably wants to keep each in the lineup most of the time.

Which brings us to Harper, who is stuck in the worst extended stretch of his career but is being afforded the opportunity to play his way out of it.

“Because he really wants to, I believe that,” Martinez said. “You can see it in somebody’s face when they say something and don’t really mean it. He says it with conviction. And I believe that. Now, there’s going to come a point in time where he’ll come and tell me if he needs a day off or something. He’s done that before. When he does that, hopefully it’s a day where we can give him a day off with a scheduled day off (next), so he can have two days off.”

So Taylor is left to try to make the most of whatever opportunities he gets. He did it Tuesday night, delivering an RBI pinch-hit single during the Nationals’ four-run rally in the bottom of the seventh.

“I told him just be prepared to play and help us win,” Martinez said. “I mean, when you come off the bench, you get put in big moments like he did yesterday, and he came through, which was great. He knows he has a job to do, and he knows he’s going to get an opportunity to play.”

Some injury updates ...

* Brandon Kintzler threw off a bullpen mound today for the first time since landing on the DL with a flexor strain in his right forearm. The club will wait to see how the reliever feels Thursday before planning its next move.

* Ryan Zimmerman has been taking ground balls and “hitting a little bit,” according to Martinez. The veteran first baseman, out since May 9 with a strained oblique muscle, is trying to progress to the point where he’s ready to go on a minor league rehab assignment.

* Matt Wieters recently caught a bullpen session but has not yet begun running. Wieters had surgery on his hamstring May 16 and speculated afterward he could be ready to return in six weeks.

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