8/5/2014 12:53 A.M. ET
Nats No. 3 prospect Taylor stars in Triple-A debut
By Daniel Popper / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals promoted No. 3 prospect Michael Taylor to Triple-A Syracuse on Monday. The outfielder hit .313 with a .935 OPS, 22 home runs, 61 RBIs and 34 stolen bases in 98 games for Double-A Harrisburg this season.
"He's found his power stroke," manager Matt Williams said. "He is as good as I've seen in the outfield that can cover extreme ground out there. Makes it look real easy in center field. ... He's a young hitter still. But he's made those adjustments and he continues to make them. And now, he'll have another test. But that's part of the progression that he's got to go through."
In his debut for the Chiefs, Taylor went 2-for-2 with a go-ahead RBI double, two walks, a run and a stolen base as Syracuse defeated Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 7-6.
Despite Taylor's tremendous instincts in the outfield, center field is relatively new to him. After all, the Nationals drafted Taylor as a shortstop in the sixth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
"He is a guy we took a little slower with because he was drafted as a shortstop out of high school and then made the transition to the outfield," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "His development has finally caught up with his natural physical skill and tools."
Williams said the key for Taylor's outburst at the plate this season has been pitch recognition -- something the first-year skipper believes is crucial for any young hitter.
"He's just put it together," Williams said. "If he doesn't swing at the bad slider or he doesn't swing at the high fastball, he'll get better pitches to hit and he'll produce. ... He's recognizing better and he's doing a really good job with that, concentrating on that as part of his game. And he's making those steps that he needs to make quickly, which is good."
Span showcases his defensive skills against O's
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals and Orioles were tied at 2 in the top of the sixth inning Monday night at Nationals Park when Washington right-hander Tanner Roark delivered a 1-2 breaking ball on the outside corner to Nelson Cruz.
Cruz reached for the pitch and sent a low line drive toward center field. Denard Span was playing Cruz deep to respect his power, but he was able to get a good jump as soon as he saw Roark fool the right-handed slugger with the offspeed pitch.
Span charged, slid and made the catch, just getting his glove in between the ball and the outfield grass. But as Span went to slide, his right knee smashed into the turf, sending him tumbling forward. All that was left to mark the spectacular catch was a divot several inches deep in the ground.
"It seemed a little soft out there," Span said. "It kind of scared me a little bit because I didn't think I slid that violently."
To aid his teammate, who was a slightly shaken up after the play, Jayson Werth trotted over from right field and fixed the torn-up grass, as if he were a golfer maintaining etiquette on the course. Meanwhile, Roark was animated on the mound, slapping his hand to his glove and pointing to Span in the outfield to show his appreciation.
"He can get to any ball from left-center to right-center because he's amazing out there," Roark said. "It was a heck of a play, kept us in the game."
That wasn't enough for Roark, though. After the right-hander struck out Chris Davis to end the inning, he waited in front of the dugout to give Span a huge high five as the sold-out crowd in Washington rose to its feet to provide the center fielder with a well-deserved standing ovation.
"Whenever a pitcher does that, it's just a special feeling," said Span, who went 2-for-4 to extend his on-base streak to 30 games.
Span made another important defensive play in what was eventually a 7-3 Nationals loss. With two runners on and one out in the top of the second inning, Span caught a sharp liner off the bat of Ryan Flaherty before quickly firing to second base to double up Davis. It ended the frame and preserved what was then a scoreless tie.
"We've been watching him do that for a couple years now," Ian Desmond said. "He's the best out there."
After the game, Span said his catch in the sixth inning left him sore, largely because of the impact to his right leg during the jarring collision with the turf. But he was adamant it's not serious.
"Nothing the cold tub hopefully can't fix," Span said.
Nationals recall Souza from Triple-A Syracuse
WASHINGTON -- In his first at-bat on Sunday for Triple-A Syracuse in Scranton, outfielder Steven Souza Jr. ripped a single to right field. After back-to-back strikeouts ended the frame, the Nationals' No. 5 prospect returned to the dugout, where Chiefs coaches told him he was being removed from the contest for not running hard enough to first base.
Souza said he immediately knew something was up, especially considering teammates started giving him congratulatory hugs. But it was only after a two-hour bus ride back to Syracuse that Souza got the official word: He would be returning to Washington on Monday for his third stint in the Major Leagues.
"Two hours on the bus, my family's texting me. I just had to tell them, 'I don't know what's going on right now,'" Souza said. "But they told me when I got back, and I was excited."
The Nationals' decision to call up Souza on Monday occurred after Nate McLouth was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of right shoulder inflammation. But that doesn't mean Souza didn't deserve the promotion.
In 91 games for Syracuse in 2014, Souza hit .354 with a 1.036 OPS, 18 home runs, 70 RBIs and 23 doubles. Even with his sensational performance, though, Souza only saw action in eight games for the Nationals, all of which came during two stretches in April.
"I don't think anybody wants to stay in the Minor Leagues forever, but you've got to look at the situation. And, look, we've got three, four, five great outfielders up here." Souza said. "I don't think you have any control over that. And that's what I try to focus on -- control what I can control. And I can control having quality ABs, and that's what I did."
Souza's bat will bolster a Nationals bench that has struggled this season. Manager Matt Williams said the right-handed slugger would "certainly" see time as a pinch-hitter, while also providing days off for outfielders Denard Span and Jayson Werth, who've played in 101 and 107 of a possible 110 games, respectively, this season.
"When we drafted him, we saw him as a big-time tool package," general manager Mike Rizzo said of Souza. "He finally has started to take off and play the way we thought he would."
Williams said his biggest concern regarding Souza is making sure the outfielder doesn't lose the timing and rhythm that resulted in his impressive numbers in Triple-A this season. But with three starting outfielders in Span, Werth and Bryce Harper, Williams said getting Souza consistent starts is not a realistic possibility.
"I would like to, but you never know. You don't know what's going to happen in tonight's game or tomorrow or beyond," Williams said. "He's had an incredible year, and we don't want him to lose that feel. But then again, we've talked a million times about [how] we've got guys who play every day. And they're pretty good players. So you don't want to mess with that either."
McLouth lands on DL with shoulder inflammation
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals placed outfielder Nate McLouth on the 15-day disabled list Monday because of right shoulder inflammation, an injury he sustained while diving for a line drive in a 7-6 loss to the Marlins on July 28. Washington recalled outfielder Steven Souza Jr. to take McLouth's spot on the active roster.
Manager Matt Williams said McLouth underwent an MRI on Monday. He also received a cortisone shot to reduce swelling.
"It's just inflamed, so we just decided to go ahead and put him on the DL and get it right," Williams said. "Over the last few days, it's just been really sore."
The amount of time McLouth will miss is still to be determined, but Williams didn't rule out the injury keeping the outfielder on the sideline until September. For now, McLouth won't throw for five days, according to general manager Mike Rizzo.
"We'll see how he reacts," Williams said. "The first thing is to get him that anti-inflammatory shot and calm him down, and then see where we're at. But he should be good. It's not something that should last too long."
In anticipation of the birth of his first child, Wilson Ramos will go on a three-day paternity leave starting Tuesday, the catcher told the Washington Post. Ramos will be absent for the Nationals' three-game home series against the Mets, but he will return to the team on Friday in Atlanta.
Daniel Popper is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.