Taylor to stick in leadoff spot

Taylor to stick in leadoff spot

MIAMI -- When the Nationals lost Ben Revere four innings into the 2016 regular season to a strained oblique, it left them without a clear leadoff hitter.

Michael Taylor has stepped in as the Nationals' primary leadoff man in the meantime, although manager Dusty Baker admits Taylor does not perfectly fit the role. Taylor had two hits and a walk in his best game at the plate this season in Monday's 6-1 loss to the Marlins, but he has scuffled through the early going of this season.

"He's been struggling some to get on base," Baker said. "But he's the best that we have to put in that spot right now without having to tear the rest of my lineup up."

Taylor began Tuesday batting .178/.208/.267, and his on-base percentage is the third worst in the National League among qualified hitters. But Taylor never profiled as a guy with a high on-base percentage. He owns a .276 on-base percentage in 166 games in his short Major League career.

Baker has encouraged Taylor to stay aggressive as a leadoff hitter and not feel pressured to take pitches he would normally swing at because of his spot in the lineup, but Taylor has been a bit overly aggressive so far and is swinging at 35.8 percent of pitches outside the strike zone.

Part of the reason Baker believes Taylor can stay aggressive is because of the man hitting behind him in the No. 2 spot in the lineup ...

Anthony Rendon

Rendon's game-tying single

Baker trusts Rendon, who holds a career .342 on-base percentage, to work the count and get deep into an at-bat even if Taylor swings early in the count.

Rendon has started 36 games as a leadoff hitter in his career and spent some time there last season. But inserting Rendon as the leadoff hitter would likely result in an entirely new lineup for the Nationals, something Baker has sought to avoid. He likes the idea of players knowing their spots in the lineup in order to build consistency and a routine, especially after the Nationals have begun the season 9-3.

So perhaps Baker would consider a straight swap of Taylor and ...

Jayson Werth

Werth's bases-clearing double

This is a popular suggestion to fill the role, especially considering Taylor could slot into Werth's spot as the No. 6 hitter. Werth has a career .365 on-base percentage overall, and in 21 games hitting at the top of the order last season, he batted .318/.388/.580.

At his best, Werth is the kind of hitter who works deep into counts and draws walks, however, he began the season in an 0-for-13 slump, though he has rebounded a bit since. Entering Tuesday, Werth had five hits, including three doubles and a home run, and two walks over his past six games.

One hitter who is certainly not struggling and could warrant consideration is ...

Daniel Murphy

Murphy's RBI triple

Murphy has been seemingly hitting everything in his first 12 games with his new team. He extended his hitting streak to 10 games on Monday night and is batting .415/.500/.732, leading the Majors both in average and tied for second in on-base percentage. While Murphy does not have the speed of Taylor, he has shown his ability to get on base could help provide more scoring opportunities ahead of Rendon and Bryce Harper.

But for now, the Nationals will give the opportunity to Taylor, who possesses power to the opposite field and speed on the basepaths. Baker pointed to a small sample size of games for Taylor and the fact that Washington is winning games as a reason to wait for changes.

"All around the league, there's somebody that started off poorly," Baker said. "We have more than one guy that's not hitting the way he's capable of hitting."

Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.