LOS ANGELES ― Chris Taylor has never been a strict platoon player in seven storybook seasons with the Dodgers.
A right-handed hitter, Taylor has twice as many plate appearances against right-handed pitchers (2,137) compared to left-handers (1,017) in his career. His on-base plus slugging percentages (.760 against righties, .774 against lefties) do not lend themselves to riding the bench with a right-handed pitcher on the mound.
Yet that might just be his fate in 2023.
Manager Dave Roberts said Sunday in advance of the Freeway Series that he sees Taylor getting at-bats “against left-handers” this season.
That was in response to a follow-up question about Taylor’s quest for playing time on an Opening Day roster that includes five other right-handed hitters who mostly outperformed Taylor at the plate in spring training. In 48 Cactus League plate appearances, Taylor had six hits and 23 strikeouts ― a .125 batting average.
“I’ve been more encouraged the last couple days, to be honest,” Roberts said. “(Taylor) was really searching, out of whack. I think he’s found a little something. Still a work in progress. The last couple days for me he’s had better intent. I think he’s seeing the ball much better. Swinging shorter.”
The question for Taylor, soon, is when he’ll get that work in during regular season games. He’s in line to get at-bats at third base, shortstop and second base, Roberts said, but is blocked by a starter at each of those positions. Trayce Thompson, James Outman and David Peralta effectively comprise three outfielders to play left field and center field, with Mookie Betts holding down the right field on most nights.
Outman is poised to start in center field after an impressive spring training. The 25-year-old rookie batted .286 with a .379 on-base percentage and .531 slugging percentage in 49 at-bats. Taylor’s best opportunity, then, could come as a platoon partner in left field with the left-handed hitting Peralta ― a position Thompson would like to hold down too.
Thompson batted .103 (3 for 29) with 10 strikeouts in Cactus League play. He also hit .214 (3 for 14) with seven strikeouts in the World Baseball Classic.
Taylor made his first career All-Star team last year but faded badly in the second half. To get back on track, does he need to play regularly, or can behind-the-scenes practice do the trick?
“You can argue both sides,” Roberts said. “In this case he’s going to have to do a little of both. We’ve got other opportunities and guys I want to play, so it’s a combo.”
In his first at-bat Sunday against the Angels, Taylor hit a solo home run against Tucker Davidson, a left-handed pitcher.
“It’s a long season. I’m not thinking about the whole year,” Taylor said. “I’m just trying to get myself right. If I play the way I’m capable of, I’ll play against lefties and righties.”
Miguel Vargas’ place on the Opening Day roster has gone unquestioned since the outset of camp. Saturday, Roberts said that he pulled aside Andre Jackson, Ryan Pepiot and Outman individually to tell them they had made their first-ever Opening Day rosters ― but not Vargas.
This only came to his attention when Vargas pulled a subtle trick on clubhouse manager Alex Torres.
“(Torres) asked me (Saturday) if I will drive here or take a flight,” Vargas said. “I was joking, saying, ‘I don’t know if I’m on the team.’ ”
Torres took the message back to Roberts, but didn’t indicate Vargas was kidding.
“I sort of maybe dropped the ball a little bit,” Roberts said. “It was assumed he was going to be on the team. I didn’t feel the need to call him in, so he was asking about what his status is going into the Freeway Series. I said, ‘you’re going to be starting at second base this year, congratulations.’ ”
Will Smith, who was not in the starting lineup Sunday against the Angels, will play both Freeway Series games in Anaheim, Roberts said. … Jayson Heyward was given a day off after playing Saturday in Arizona. … Special assistant Adrian Gonzalez was in uniform with the Dodgers’ other coaches Sunday.
Dodgers (Noah Syndergaard) vs. Angels (Tyler Anderson) at Angel Stadium, Monday, SportsNet LA, KCOP, 570-AM, 830-AM
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