Dodgers’ Chris Taylor is a regular guy who doesn’t mind his irregular role
The only thing missing is the title of regular, a designation the super utility man thought he might gain this winter when the second-base job appeared to open in the wake of Kiké Hernández’s free-agent departure.
But Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made it clear Wednesday that Gavin Lux will open the season as the primary second baseman, saying the highly touted 23-year-old would be “getting a good runway to play regularly” at the position.
That news came as neither a surprise nor disappointment to Taylor, who is content with his plug-and-play role as long as the Dodgers continue to push his “play” button.
“The most important thing to me is playing — if I’m on the field, I’m happy,” Taylor said before Thursday night’s exhibition against the Chicago Cubs at Camelback Ranch.
“Whether I’m playing second or shortstop or outfield every day or if I’m playing all of those, I just want to be on the field as much as I can. That’s been part of my value, playing all over, so I understand why they’d want me to stay in that role.”
Julio Urías makes a quick exit after struggling to get outs for the Dodgers in a 4-4 draw with the Cincinnati Reds in MLB spring training on Wednesday.
Taylor has started games at shortstop, second base, third base and all three outfield spots in five seasons with the Dodgers, the bulk of his action coming at shortstop, left field and center field.
He has spent long stretches in one spot filling in for injured starters, most recently for center fielder AJ Pollock in 2019 and shortstop Corey Seager in 2018. When he arrived at camp this spring, Roberts instructed Taylor to take more grounders at third base, a position where he has made only nine career starts.
“It’s more of a reactionary position,” said Taylor, who was slowed by neck stiffness before playing in his first game Wednesday. “You don’t have as much time to think or read the hops. You have to make a split-second decision off the bat to come get it or wait back on it. It’s definitely gonna take some reps.”
Taylor, 30, does not play Gold Glove-caliber defense at any one spot but is more than adequate at all of them, his play improving as he embraced his role.
“Early on, it was easy to fall into the trap that you just want to be adequate,” Taylor said. “When you’re playing multiple positions, especially a spot you haven’t played a ton of, it’s easy to tell yourself, ‘OK, don’t make any mistakes. Just do enough to make the routine play.’
“I think what I’ve learned is if you try to take it to the next level and try to be great everywhere, that’s a better mind-set.”
Taylor may be an itinerant defender, but his bat has been a constant in potent lineups that have helped the Dodgers reach three of the past four World Series and win their first championship since 1988 when they beat Tampa Bay in a six-game World Series last October.
Taylor has a .238 average, .761 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, five homers and 13 RBIs in 51 career playoff games. He started all six World Series games last season and was named most valuable player of the 2017 National League Championship Series against the Cubs.
Taylor hit .270 with eight homers and 32 RBIs in 56 games in 2020, his production in a pandemic-shortened 60-game season rivaling his breakout 2017, when he hit .288 with 21 homers, 72 RBIs and 85 runs in 140 games.
The difference, Taylor said, was improved plate discipline. Taylor struck out 142 times in 2017 and a league-high 178 times in 2018, but he had a career-low 25.7% strikeout rate and a career-high 12.2% walk rate in 2020.
According to advanced metrics, Taylor had a career-high 45.5% hard-hit rate and swung at only 21.3% of pitches outside the strike zone, a career-low.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said fans could be allowed at MLB games — including Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium — as soon as opening day in April.
“I made some mechanical adjustments that slowed the ball down a little bit and gave me a little more time to see the ball,” Taylor said. “When you’re not late on fastballs and not having to cheat to catch up to velocity, you’re gonna chase fewer off-speed pitches out of the zone.
“That’s the thing with a baseball swing, it’s constantly changing, whether you want it to or not.”
Much like Taylor, a man who is constantly on the move but remains a fixture in the lineup, regardless of his title or role.
“I like everything about him, the way he competes in the batter’s box against left-handers and right-handers, his baserunning, defense,” Roberts said. “He’s just a huge asset.”
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