FORT MYERS, Fla. - Michael A. Taylor was forced to prematurely depart today’s exhibition game in the third inning, shortly after the Nationals center fielder injured his left knee making a diving catch.
Taylor’s impressive catch of Byron Buxton’s second-inning drive to right-center drew oohs and applause from the crowd at the Twins’ spring training complex, but the reaction turned quiet as Taylor remained on the ground and manager Davey Martinez and director of athletic training Paul Lessard came jogging out of the dugout to check on him.
Taylor, who appeared to get his left foot caught in the turf as he leaped to make the catch, got back to his feet and after a brief conversation stayed in the game. But it was clear he was less than 100 percent healthy.
Taylor finished out the bottom of the second, which lasted only one more batter, then attempted to jog back to the dugout. After several uncomfortable steps, he had to stop jogging and instead walk all the way back.
“His knee jammed right in the ground,” Martinez said. “And then his leg kind of twisted. We asked him how he felt, and he said he was getting stiff. I said: ‘Just come out then.’ It was just a weird fall.”
When the bottom of the third inning arrived Victor Robles, who started in right field, shifted over to center field, with Alec Keller (a minor leaguer called up for the day to make the long trip from West Palm Beach) taking over in right field and batting in Taylor’s No. 2 spot in the lineup.
“That’s like the worst-case scenario,” said Erick Fedde, who was on the mound at the time of the play. “There’s nothing like seeing your guys lay out for the ball. ... When your outfield’s doing that for you, it makes you feel pretty awesome. But I’m glad he’s OK and he was able to walk off. I guess I’m very thankful, and I’m thankful he’s giving it all he’s got.”
Taylor declined to comment but was walking around the clubhouse with a slight limp. Martinez said he’ll be re-evaluated Friday in West Palm Beach but sounded cautiously optimistic the injury isn’t serious.
“He’s going to be sore,” the manager said. “We’re going to re-evaluate him tomorrow. But I took him out just for precautionary measures.”
With opening day two weeks away, the Nationals could find themselves facing a shortage of healthy big league outfielders. Though they figure to open the season with Robles in center, Juan Soto in left and Adam Eaton in right, Martinez has repeatedly said this spring he expects to give Taylor significant playing time as the fourth member of the group.
Using a revamped and simplified swing, Taylor is batting .360 (9-for-25) with three doubles, a homer and four RBIs in 11 Grapefruit League games. He has struck out nine times, though, a continued concern for the club.
Veteran utilityman Howie Kendrick, who sees some action in left field, already is questionable to make the opening day roster after straining his left hamstring earlier this month. If Taylor is unable to return from this injury in time, the only other true outfielder on the Nationals’ 40-man roster is Andrew Stevenson, who was 7-for-33 this spring entering today and struck out in his first two at-bats.
Hunter Jones, a 27-year-old non-roster invitee who hit .301 in 107 combined games between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse last season, is the only other true outfielder still in big league camp.
Taylor’s health, suffice it to say, is significant for a Nationals club that knows how much he’s needed, even if he’s not an everyday starter.
“He’s part of the team, and more importantly this is a family,” Robles said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “So anything that happens to my teammates, you get a little worried. But I’m very happy that it ended up not being anything serious. Hopefully, we’ll have him back soon.”