Chris Taylor, and his grand slam, make trade pay off during Dodgers’ rout of the Pirates
At the time, the trade looked unremarkable. There was little reason to think otherwise. On June 19, 2016, the Dodgers sent Zach Lee, a former first-round pick who had slipped in the organization’s pitching hierarchy, to Seattle. In return, the team acquired a light-hitting utility infielder named Chris Taylor.
The value of Taylor did not become crucial until 10 months later, when starting second baseman Logan Forsythe broke a toe and backup second baseman Chase Utley careened into the worst slump of his career. The Dodgers have turned to Taylor as one of their primary middle infielders. He has responded in revelatory fashion, with an offensive outburst that may have peaked with a grand slam in the Dodgers’ 12-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday at Dodger Stadium.
“That really set the tone,” outfielder Joc Pederson said. “We built off that the rest of the game.”
When Taylor joined the Dodgers, he had not hit a home run in 86 games as a Mariner. He has three in 16 games in 2017. He delivered a first-inning jolt and added a rally-extending single two innings later. The Dodgers hung eight runs on starter Trevor Williams in three innings.
Taylor began 2017 in triple-A Oklahoma City. The injury to Forsythe brought him to the majors. He may not depart. He is hitting .395 with a 1.205 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Even when the helium fades from those statistics, the Dodgers believe a series of offseason adjustments have made Taylor a far more dangerous hitter than the man they acquired in 2016.
The onslaught Monday provided support for Alex Wood (3-0). In five innings, Wood struck out 11 batters and yielded no runs. He gave up two singles and a walk. Wood has struck out 30 batters in his last four starts.
“I’ve got to continue to be consistent,” Wood said. “I’m just going to build off that, and get ready for the next one.”
The Dodgers did not announce Wood as the starting pitcher until the early afternoon. The team put Brandon McCarthy, who felt confident he could pitch, on the disabled list after he dislocated his nonthrowing shoulder in the weight room last week. Wood has stayed in the rotation since Rich Hill aggravated a blister April 16.
Pittsburgh countered with Williams, a 25-year-old right-hander making his second career start. His fielding cost him at the start. Andrew Toles led off with a swinging bunt that Williams could not retrieve. Williams managed to glove a softly struck grounder off the bat of Corey Seager, but his throw sailed high. A walk by Cody Bellinger loaded the bases.
Desperate for an escape, Williams decided Taylor could not handle his slider. He threw the pitch three consecutive times. The first landed as a strike. Taylor swung the through second. The third did little, taking a slight bend before crunching into the barrel of Taylor’s bat. Upon impact, Williams pirouetted 180 degrees to watch the ball’s flight.
“I was just trying to shorten up and put a ball in play,” Taylor said. “And he left a slider over the plate.”
Taylor utilized the winter-time alterations of his swing to pulverize the pitch. He timed his leg kick so his body was loaded properly when Williams’ pitiable slider floated through the zone. In the past, Taylor struggled to pull the baseball, and often tried to spray hits to the opposite field. Now he clobbered a drive into center.
“Mechanically, he’s just more sound and athletic,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Two batters later, Williams hung another slider. This time, he did not turn to witness the ball disappear. When Yasiel Puig shipped the pitch deep into the left-field pavilion, Williams looked away.
His night would not improve. In the third, Pederson and Taylor cracked singles, with both scoring on a well-placed double by Yasmani Grandal.
The lead felt excessive on a night when Wood looked so sharp. He struck out eight batters in his first four innings. Pittsburgh did not record a hit until the fourth, when outfielder Gregory Polanco threaded a single up the middle. Polanco became the first Pirate to hit a ball out of the infield.
The Dodgers answered Pittsburgh’s first hit with two runs in the bottom of the inning. Justin Turner supplied a run-scoring single. Pederson supplied a run-scoring double.
Roberts removed Wood after 88 pitches. Roberts let precaution rule. Seager left the game after four innings. Turner departed midway through the sixth. As the substitutions occurred, Taylor shifted to shortstop.
He ended the evening using the versatility that enticed the Dodgers to acquire him. He had already showcased the offensive ability the team hardly expected.
“It was fun today,” Taylor said. “It was a good team win.”
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