PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - This morning’s MRI of Michael A. Taylor’s left leg revealed both a sprained knee and hip, and the Nationals outfielder is going to miss a “significant” amount of time while recovering, according to manager Davey Martinez.
“It stinks,” Martinez said following the Nats’ 11-3 exhibition victory over the Mets. “It’s a little bit more than we were hoping for. But he’s going to rehab, and as soon as we get him back, we get him back.”
Taylor injured himself making a diving catch of Byron Buxton’s line drive to right-center during the second inning of Thursday’s game against the Twins in Fort Myers. He said his knee stuck in the ground, kicking up a large chunk of turf, and though he was allowed to stay in the game to complete the inning he could only walk back to the dugout afterward and was immediately pulled.
Back at the Nationals complex in West Palm Beach this morning, Taylor was still limping but expressed hope it wasn’t anything serious.
“It’s still a little early right now,” he said. “I’m going to go get in the training room, loosen up a little bit and see how I feel.”
Shortly after that, though, Taylor departed the complex with an MRI order in his hand, and the Nationals headed to Port St. Lucie awaiting results.
Martinez didn’t have specific details yet about which ligament Taylor sprained in his knee or hip, but acknowledged the injury will prevent the 27-year-old from making the opening day roster and could sideline him well into the season.
“He’s going to start treatment, but I think he’s going to miss a significant amount of time,” the manager said.
Though he already had been projected to open the season as the Nationals’ starting center fielder, Victor Robles now is assured of holding that job. And barring the acquisition of another player from outside the organization, the 21-year-old top prospect is going to get the vast majority of the playing time in center field.
That said, the Nationals need a viable backup center fielder, and their current options are thin. Andrew Stevenson, who has a .547 OPS in 152 big league plate appearances, is the only other healthy outfielder on the 40-man roster. Hunter Jones, a 27-year-old career minor leaguer with only 37 games of experience above Double-A, is the only other outfielder still in big league camp.
“Victor is going to play,” Martinez said. “But when you start a season with just four outfielders, you want a guy who can play center field. So we’re going to have to really look for that guy.”
Martinez intends to get a look at infielder Wilmer Difo in center field this weekend, and first baseman Matt Adams started in left field today against the Mets. Howie Kendrick also can play left field, once he returns from a strained hamstring.
Those would all be temporary fixes, though, and not viable long-term alternatives to Taylor as the team’s fourth outfielder.
There are several prominent free agent outfielders still unsigned: Carlos González, Denard Span, José Bautista, Chris Young and Austin Jackson. Whether the Nationals are willing to spend more money and inch closer to the $206 million luxury tax threshold, or whether any of those veterans is willing to take a short-term job as a backup outfielder, remains to be seen.
“We still got some time,” Martinez said. “And we’ll reevaluate here in the next week or so.”