Baker wants slumping Taylor to relax, show more patience

He was the hottest hitter on the roster all spring, arguably the hottest hitter in the Grapefruit League. But Michael A. Taylor is finding out now what so many have found out before him: Hitting in April isn't the same as hitting in March.

Taylor enters play today sporting a .138 batting average (4-for-29), with a .133 on-base percentage that's actually lower (something possible only when you've got a sacrifice fly but zero walks).

taylor-blue-swing-walk-off-sidebar.jpgIt's a far cry from his performance this spring, when he hit .453 with five homers, 16 RBI and a 1.340 OPS that trailed only Colorado's Nolan Arenado among all qualifying big leaguers.

So what changed, beyond the obvious difference between spring training games that don't count versus regular season games that very much count?

Manager Dusty Baker sees several factors.

"No. 1, they're not throwing him as many fastballs," the manager said. "Because in spring training, most (pitchers) are trying to locate their fastball. They're getting their arm strength up. And if a guy has a good breaking ball in spring training, you're usually out anyway. Your eyes aren't conditioned to recognize the difference in speed at that time."

Taylor's lack of walks also stands out at this early stage of the season. He never was a big work-the-count guy last year as a rookie, but he has regressed in that department so far in 2016, averaging only 3.33 pitches per plate appearance (well below the major league average of 3.82).

That could be a case of a young hitter knowing he's in a bit of a slump and trying too hard to snap out of it with one big swing.

"He's not at this point being as patient," Baker said. "Any time you start the season off and you start trying to figure things out that might not have needed to be figured out, then you foul off a pitch you were hitting before, and it puts you in a two-strike situation."

It probably hasn't helped that Taylor has been forced into a leadoff role with Ben Revere on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle. Baker gave the 25-year-old today's series finale against the Braves off, telling him to use it as an "observation day" to watch what other hitters are doing and contemplate how he might approach similar situations.

Make no mistake, though, the Nationals remain committed to Taylor. And Baker knows the only way to get him out of a funk is to get him right back in the lineup with a chance to turn things around.

"He'll figure it out, and we'll figure it out," the manager said. "We'll help him figure it out. Michael Taylor can hit, and he can play. I told him I started one season 1-for-21 and ended up third in the league in hitting. Everybody wants to start off hot, but invariably somebody starts off cold."

(For the record, Baker did open the 1972 season in a 1-for-22 slump and finished with a .321 batting average, third-best in the National League.)

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