Michael A. Taylor seeing much playing time this season wasn’t expected. In fact, even after an impressive Grapefruit League season, there was speculation that the rookie might be better suited for another season of development in the minors rather than sitting on the bench for the Nationals.
But when Denard Span and Jayson Werth weren’t ready to start the season, Taylor was not only the opening day center fielder but also the leadoff man. Except for a quick early stint at Triple-A Syracuse when both veterans returned, Taylor has essentially spent the entire season playing a vital role for the Nationals.
Utilizing his superb quickness and speed along with tremendous instincts, Taylor has quickly turned into one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.
At the plate, he continues to work on his discipline to cut his strikeout numbers down while also showing the moxie of a seasoned veteran in clutch situations. With runners in scoring position, the 24-year-old is batting .345 (29-for-84), with three homers and 42 RBIs.
Those lofty numbers include a game-winning ninth inning grand slam in Arizona in mid-May and, of course, last night’s epic three-run walk-off bomb to beat the Braves in the 10th.
“I just think he understands himself and what he can and can’t do,” Nationals manager Matt Williams said. “Not necessarily hitting the ball out of the ballpark, but with runners in scoring position, he’s been really good. So the inning set up well for him. I don’t think it was a fastball in. It was a breaking ball that he hit. So he just stayed through a ball and got enough of it certainly to hit it over the fence. He’s just been able to just stay within himself and get a base hit in those situations.”
Sixteen times, Taylor has given the Nats the lead with a hit, and eight of his 14 homers have been launched in the seventh inning or later. He attempted to explain his success with the game on the line.
“Sometimes it’s harder than others, but I’m up there just trying not to do too much.” Taylor said. “Sometimes in those situations your adrenaline can get going and it almost works against you.”
A violent collision with the center field wall while trying to make a catch on Aug. 27 badly bruised Taylor’s right knee. The lingering swelling and soreness kept him out of the starting lineup for the past three nights. But Taylor said after his extra-inning dramatics that he was trying to get manager Matt Williams’ attention throughout the game to see some action.
“I was standing at the bat rack the whole game trying to get in the game,” Taylor said. “I’m just standing close like stretching.”
Williams finally called on Taylor to step in the box in the 10th for a situation as big as any that he rookie has faced in his first full season in the big leagues. The goal was to somehow plate Bryce Harper from third base with no outs and the game tied. Ryan Zimmerman also stood on first, but it was Harper’s run that the Nats needed for the win.
Taylor simply took all doubt out of the equation, crushing a moonshot into the Red Porch at Nationals Park for a three-run walk-off homer.
“He’s got a lightning quick bat,” Jonathan Papelbon said after claiming his first win with the Nats. “It was like a 30 ought six coming off the bat right there. I hadn’t seen a ball hit like that in a long time.”