'Health is there' as Taylor makes return to shortstop
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Coming into Spring Training, a bounceback season from Chris Taylor was considered something that could help the Dodgers replace some of the production that left through free agency in what was an offseason full of change.
Following Gavin Lux’s torn right ACL and sprained right LCL that will sideline him for the entire 2023 season, Taylor’s resurgence now isn’t just something the Dodgers hope will happen. It’s something they desperately need in order to win a 10th National League West title in 11 seasons.
“The health is there,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “So now it’s just to bet on the player, the person. We feel good about CT, obviously.”
Taylor, who signed a four-year, $60 million deal following the 2021 season, battled multiple injuries in ‘22, including a fractured left foot that sidelined him for several weeks. As he worked through those injuries, Taylor was never able to get going at the plate. He hit 10 homers, the fewest he’s had in a full season since becoming a regular in Los Angeles in ‘17. His .677 OPS was also his lowest during the same span. Combine that with 160 strikeouts in 402 at-bats and it was a forgettable season for Taylor.
In order to improve those numbers, Taylor, 32, was one of the handful of players who made the trip to Seattle to visit Driveline this past offseason. He said he believes some of that information can help him moving forward, ideally to cut down his strikeouts. This spring, Taylor is 2-for-8 with a pair of strikeouts in three games. He had two hard-hit balls in the Dodgers’ 4-2 win over the Rangers on Wednesday at Surprise Stadium.
Defensively, it was maybe even more surprising that Taylor wasn’t able to give the Dodgers the versatility they grew accustomed to over the years. Taylor saw most of his time in the outfield in 2022, logging just 22 games at second base, three at third and one inning at shortstop.
The reason for that was because Taylor underwent surgery on his right elbow after the 2021 season. He has been timid to experiment with that arm strength, but now, it’ll be put to the test.
Coming into the season, the plan was to keep Taylor in left and center field, again avoiding the infield as much as possible. Now, Taylor will have to back up Miguel Rojas at shortstop to make up for the loss of Lux. Taylor admitted it would take some time to get used to being at the position again.
In his first chance to make a play on Wednesday, Taylor couldn’t corral a rocket off the bat of Corey Seager. Once he picked the ball up, Taylor’s throw nearly ended up inside the Rangers’ dugout down the first-base line. In his second chance, Taylor got the forceout at second base.
“I’ve been doing a throwing program,” Taylor said. “It’s early in Spring Training, so it’s definitely a progression. I feel right now I’ll be fine.”
Cactus League notes
• Dustin May made his first start of the spring on Wednesday against the Rangers, striking out three and walking two in 1 2/3 innings. May’s stuff was sharp, particularly his slider, and he was flashing 97-98 mph consistently with the four-seamer. After working his way back from Tommy John surgery last season, May is finally fully healthy and will be a key piece of the Dodgers’ rotation.
• Mookie Betts and Jason Heyward each hit homers off former Dodger left-hander Andrew Heaney. Betts, who continues to get ready to represent Team USA in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, led off the game with his blast. Heyward, who -- barring something unforeseen -- will be on the Opening Day roster, has been one of the surprises over the last two weeks.
• Jimmy Nelson’s first appearance in a game since 2021 didn’t go as hoped. The right-hander faced three batters and failed to record an out. His fastball velocity was 88-90 mph, though Roberts said Nelson has been better in live batting practice sessions this spring. It was a rainy day in Surprise.
• Miguel Vargas is still not cleared to swing a bat because of a hairline fracture on his right pinky finger, but that hasn’t stopped him from walking three times this spring. He walked twice in 50 plate appearances last season.