The Nationals chose to option Taylor to Triple-A Syracuse before this morning’s Independence Day game against the Brewers, activating Papelbon off the disabled list and giving them - for the moment - a 13-man pitching staff and a short bench.
Papelbon had been out since June 12 with a strained right ribcage muscle, the first time the 35-year-old reliever had gone on the DL in his career. He appeared in three minor league rehab games over the last six days (one for high Single-A Potomac, two for Double-A Harrisburg) in addition to a simulated game at Nationals Park.
Papelbon’s return is a boost to a Nationals bullpen that had attempted to cobble things together in his absence but now can move Shawn Kelley back into a setup role and others into the roles they previously held.
With Papelbon’s return looming for several days now, conventional wisdom suggested another reliever would be moved off the roster to clear a spot. The decision to demote Taylor to the minors instead, though, may have had to do with the Nationals’ more immediate need for pitching in the wake of a long series against the Reds and the possibility of rain today against the Brewers.
“We’ve got to make a decision if we’re activating him or not,” manager Dusty Baker said this morning, referencing Papelbon. “Our pitching is kind of upside-down, limping into the (All-Star) break in our bullpen. I know he’s champing at the bit. Whatever, it’s going to be a tough move to activate Pap. We’ve got to go put our heads together.”
Taylor had been mired in a season-long slump, hitting .225 with a .266 on-base percentage, six homers and 12 RBIs in 60 games. Given an opportunity to play center field every day through the season’s first month while Ben Revere recovered from an oblique strain, the 25-year-old couldn’t seize the opportunity and wound up getting less regular playing time in recent weeks.
In Syracuse, Taylor will have an opportunity to play every day again and perhaps fix what ailed him in the big leagues, though his demotion does create an interesting scenario. Shortstop Trea Turner, one of the organization’s top prospects, recently began playing center field as a potential path to Washington. With both Turner and Taylor at Triple-A for now, there’s suddenly a logjam in center.