MIAMI – Chris Taylor has been putting up numbers this season. The wrong kind.
Recently demoted from the Dodgers’ leadoff spot against right-handed pitching, Taylor leads the team with 48 strikeouts – a total that puts him in the National League’s top 10. An inordinate number of them have come on called third strikes.
“I don’t know. I try not to think about it, I guess,” Taylor said when asked if the strikeouts were a symptom of something off in his approach. “Obviously, I try not to strike out. I’ve been striking out too much.
“I’ve been striking out on a lot of low fastballs. There’s been a few of those (that were bad calls) then there’s been a few at the knees I probably should have swung at. But they’ve been getting me with a lot of low heaters.”
Taylor’s spray chart shows his lowest contact rates have indeed been on pitches at the bottom of the zone or below it. Given his unexpected success last season, opposing pitchers could be attacking Taylor differently, having now seen his new swing and approach for a year. If that’s the case, Taylor said he is unaware of it.
“I don’t think as much about what the pitchers do to me,” he said. “If I’m feeling good and I have the right approach, that’ll take care of stuff. If you get worried about covering that low fastball or start expanding down, you become vulnerable to a lot of off-speed pitches that are down.”
Taylor has shown signs of regaining the production that made him such a catalyst in the Dodgers’ lineup last season. With two hits Thursday, he is eight for his past 22 – though the strikeouts keep coming (eight in that stretch).
“I think early on my swing wasn’t feeling great, balls were getting on me,” Taylor said. “I was late on fastballs and I think when you’re late on fastballs you feel like you have to speed things up and that makes you vulnerable to off speed. But recently I’ve felt pretty good. I feel like I’ve had better at-bats for a couple series.
“That’s baseball. It has its ups and downs.”
The Dodgers’ offense has had a lot more downs than ups over the first 43 games, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he thinks Taylor felt some responsibility for that as the leadoff hitter and probably put too much pressure on himself to be the one to spark a turnaround.
“His intent every time he gets in the box hasn’t wavered,” said Roberts who batted leadoff for much of his playing career. “But I think there is a little bit of adding pressure to yourself when you’re at the top of the order to create something.”
The Dodgers entered play Thursday with a 4.54 bullpen ERA. Only two National League teams have higher ERAs from their relievers (the Colorado Rockies and Miami Marlins). The 24 home runs allowed by Dodgers relievers was tied with the Minnesota Twins for the most in the majors.
But Roberts offered no real prescription for how to change that poor performance.
“You keep trying to put these guys in positions to have success,” he said. “You’re mindful of their workload. You try to put them against hitters that you feel they have a great chance to be successful against and you expect them to go out there and put up a zero.
“I’m going to continue to do what we’ve done.”
Roberts said left-hander Clayton Kershaw continued his throwing program Thursday, throwing aggressively from 120 feet. Kershaw has been out since May 1 with biceps tendinitis but could throw off a mound soon. A rehab assignment is unlikely before he returns to the Dodgers’ rotation.
The weather forecast for Friday in Washington D.C. does not bode well for the opener of the Dodgers-Nationals series. Rain showers are expected and could impact the series all weekend.
Dodgers RHP Ross Stripling (0-1, 2.20 ERA) at Nationals RHP Max Scherzer (7-1, 1.69 ERA), Friday, 4:05 p.m., MLB Network (out of market only), SportsNet LA (where available)