This is the third consecutive season Taylor has been called upon as the everyday center fielder as the result of an injury.
Taylor opened the 2015 season as the starting center fielder when Denard Span was on the DL for core muscle surgery. It was Taylor's most successful fill-in to date, when he posted an .840 OPS with two homers in 12 games before Span returned. Taylor returned to the Majors later that season, but he struggled overall to finish with a .640 OPS, 14 homers and 158 strikeouts in 138 games.
Ben Revere was the Nationals' starting center fielder at the start of the 2016 season, but he strained his oblique on Opening Day, paving the way for Taylor to start again. But Taylor struggled again at the plate, prompting the Nationals to eventually convert shortstop Trea Turner to the outfield and promote him from Triple-A to play center field every day. Taylor finished the season with a .654 OPS, seven home runs and 77 strikeouts in 76 games.
And now Taylor gets another chance this season to prove he can play every day.
"I told him this morning, he's been very blessed to keep getting these opportunities," Baker said. "But you got to capitalize on them, because this is a lifetime opportunity for him. He's arbitration-eligible, he's trying to get an everyday job back."
Eaton had joined Turner at the top of the order as the catalysts for this top-ranked Nationals offense, and Baker slotted Taylor as the No. 2 hitter on Saturday. But it is unclear whether Taylor will remain hitting near the top of the order or if Baker will eventually move him lower in the lineup.
If Taylor proves he has turned a corner, it could be a huge opportunity for him this year and impact his future with the team next season. Jayson Werth is in the final year of his contract, so should he not re-sign, there is a potential starting spot open in the Nationals' outfield in 2018.
"Just go out there and play," Taylor said. "Don't really think about, 'Oh, this as an opportunity to go out there.'"
Taylor has received limited playing time this season, going just 2-for-21 at the plate in 13 games. He acknowledged that his timing was a bit off and he has been tracking pitches during bullpen sessions for Nats starters. Baker committed to giving Taylor a few days for his timing, especially considering the tough slate of starting pitchers the Nats are scheduled to face during the next few days.
"We've talked and talked. ... You can't hit for him, you got to hit for yourself," Baker said. "Because when you're in that box, you're in that box all by yourself."
However, Baker was also impressed with Bautista during Spring Training and should Taylor struggle again, the team could decide Bautista is worth an everyday look. In 19 games at Triple-A Syracuse, Bautista stole three bases with a .325 on-base percentage, but he stole 56 bases in Double-A Harrisburg last season with a .340 OBP.
"I know he can hit that fastball, number one," Baker said. "He's aggressive as a hitter. We had numerous discussions on how to hit the breaking ball, which most young hitters have trouble with. He told me he's been working on it.
"He's an outstanding outfielder. Runs exceptionally well. Has a good throwing arm and pays attention. That's what I liked."