PHILADELPHIA -- The Nationals activated outfielder Michael A. Taylor from the 10-day injured list prior to Monday’s game against the Phillies, and they optioned Andrew Stevenson to Triple-A Fresno in a corresponding move.
Taylor, who sustained a sprained left knee and left hip while making a diving catch in a mid-March Spring Training game, appeared in four games with Double-A Harrisburg, including a Sunday afternoon contest. He took an Uber from Harrisburg to join the team in Philadelphia for Monday night’s series opener, though he was not in the starting lineup.
“I’ve felt pretty good for about a week and a half now,” Taylor said. “It was just a matter of playing some games, getting my timing and getting some game reps.”
The fact that Taylor missed just eight games came as a pleasant surprise for manager Dave Martinez, who said at the time of the injury that he expected the outfielder to miss a “significant amount of time.”
“I wouldn’t have thought that,” Martinez said about Taylor’s brief absence. “Like I said, when I saw him fall and he tried to get up and fell down again -- I thought that was not good. But to his testament, he worked hard and he’s back. It’s nice to have him here with us and be part of the 25-man roster.”
As for Taylor’s role, he slots in as the Nationals’ fourth outfielder behind starters Adam Eaton, Victor Robles and Juan Soto. Martinez is excited about the versatility that Taylor will provide off the bench.
“I told him, I said, ‘Hey, we're going to need you off the bench -- be ready to play,’” Martinez said. “He understands the situation. We have four really good outfielders now, so we’re excited about that.”
The 28-year-old outfielder had a breakout season in 2017, hitting .271 with 19 homers and 17 stolen bases in 118 games. He also had an .806 OPS, more than 100 points above any of his other four big league seasons.
Taylor, however, took a step back last season, hitting just .227 with six home runs over 134 games, though he did swipe a career-high 24 bases.
“I’m excited,” Taylor said. “When you’re away from the team, it’s tough just not being able to contribute or being around the guys. But everyone was really supportive, and it’s good to be back.”
Taylor represents the second significant upgrade for the Nationals’ bench in the last four days. Fellow veteran Howie Kendrick made his long-awaited return from the injured list on Thursday.
“They’re obviously both different, but you can use one guy earlier to pinch-hit if need be, knowing you’ve got the other guy,” Martinez said. “You can use Michael as a pinch-runner to steal a base in a big situation, and also his defense -- double-switching, and stuff like that. You don’t miss a thing with him out there, because he’s an everyday player.”
Bullpen remains work in progress
One day after the Nationals barely held on for a 12-9 win over the Mets, Martinez was still juggling some ideas for how to fix his struggling bullpen.
Washington relievers entered Monday’s game with a 10.80 ERA, which was not only the worst in the majors, it was more than two runs higher than any other big league ’pen. The rest of the numbers are just as unsightly -- 38 hits and 13 walks in only 23 1/3 innings, good for a .450 opponents’ on-base percentage.
As for the rotation, Nationals’ starting pitchers entered Monday’s game averaging 95.6 pitches per start, second-most in the Majors behind only the Royals.
When asked if he would consider letting his starters pitch deeper into games, it’s no surprise that Martinez quickly shot the idea down.
“We’ve got five really good starters. You don’t want to kill those guys,” he said. “You need a bullpen -- and you need everyone in the bullpen. You can’t just rely on three or four guys in the bullpen. Everybody’s got to be available, everybody’s got to pitch. We’ve said that from day one.”
“Right now, we’re just going to take it day by day, but he’s got to pitch,” Martinez said of the veteran reliever. “We’re going to try to keep him in low-pressure situations. For him, it’s just about throwing strikes. I think once he gets that first out, he’s going to be OK.”
Martinez believes that also applies to the rest of his bullpen, which he expects to find its groove sooner than later.
“They’re going to come around. The biggest thing for me is for them to just kind of relax,” he said. “Go out there, throw strikes, get ahead and just get outs. That’s what we’re trying to ask them to do -- just simplify everything. Don’t worry about the moments, don’t worry about what’s transpiring, just get outs.”
• Martinez said that Max Scherzer was “a little sore” after taking a comebacker off his shin in Sunday’s outing, but he expects his ace to be fine going forward.
• The Nationals are squaring off with Bryce Harper for the second time in as many weeks -- and the first time in his new home ballpark. The former Nationals slugger went 5-for-7 (.714) with a home run, three RBIs and three walks when these two clubs met for a two-game set last week in Washington.
"He’s a dangerous hitter," Martinez said. "So we’ve got to make our pitches against him. But they’ve got a good all-around lineup over there."