- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2018

During Wednesday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez approached center fielder Michael A. Taylor to ask when he last played infield.

“Did you see me take ground balls today?” Taylor replied to Martinez.

As Martinez contemplates using a five-man infield shift in certain scenarios, Taylor’s past experience in the infield makes him a potential candidate for the role. Taylor was drafted as a shortstop out of Westminster Academy in the sixth round of the 2009 MLB draft.

He was shifted to the outfield that fall in Instructional League and has become a high-level defender following the move. According to Baseball Info Solutions, Taylor averages 10 defensive runs saved above average, tied for seventh-best in the MLB. So, Taylor’s role in a five-man infield remains in the “just a thought” phase of Martinez’s mind.

“He’s such a valuable asset in the outfield,” Martinez said. “He’s gonna play. He’s playing today and we’re going to get him out there. He’s a big part of what we do.”

When Martinez asked Taylor about the idea of being the fifth infielder during a shift, the 27-year-old Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native readily agreed.

With 19-year-old phenom Juan Soto hitting .326 with six homers and Adam Eaton returning from an ankle injury, Taylor has become the odd man out in a four-man outfield mix, especially against right-handed pitchers. Bryce Harper is in a funk at the plate, but still leads the National League in long balls.

Taylor was included in Thursday’s lineup as Eaton got a night off. Taylor is hitting .242, 29 percentage points below last season’s mark. He has hit five homers and 20 RBIs in 2018, though he has swiped a career-high and league-high 21 bases. Since June 2, Taylor is on a career-high 11-game hitting streak. Taylor’s defense also proves to be just as strong as ever. He hasn’t committed an error in 545 innings.

In rookie ball in 2010, Taylor played 155 innings at shortstop and compiled a .876 fielding percentage. He hasn’t played the position in a game since then.

So as shifts become more prevalent in the game, Martinez weighs the benefits of keeping Taylor in center field or moving him in as a fifth infielder.

“I have thought about it,” Martinez said. “But we’ll see.”

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