Dodgers hope that Chris Taylor, known for streaky hitting, is starting to find groove

The Dodgers' Chris Taylor hits a single to right field against the San Diego Padres during the fifth inning May 7, 2023.
The Dodgers' Chris Taylor enters Friday night's game against San Diego with a .198 batting average this season. Seven of his 18 hits have been homers. "I think everything I'm hitting is in the air right now," he said. (Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

There is at least one benefit to the powerball numbers being played by Chris Taylor, the Dodgers utility man who entered Friday night’s game against the San Diego Padres with only 18 hits on the season but seven home runs.

“I guess what's great is that when he does move the ball forward, it goes over the fence, and some of them have been big homers,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think the average will go up, the on-base percentage will go up, and hopefully the slug will remain. But right now, it's sort of an outlier for me. I can't understand it.”

Taylor — who also had three doubles and a triple on the season entering Friday, resulting in a slash line heavy on slugging (.484) but light on batting average (.198) and OBP (.267) — has a simple explanation for his homer-heavy output.

“I think everything I'm hitting is in the air right now,” said Taylor, a versatile defender who has played shortstop, third base and left field this season. “You know, it's been better recently, but I've been under the ball more than I want to, so when I do hit it, it's oftentimes a fly ball. I’m working on being more of a line-drive hitter.”

Taylor’s 50.9% fly-ball rate this season is almost twice as high as his career rate of 27.1%, while his rates for ground balls (23.6%) and line drives (20%) are significantly lower than his career rates of 36.8% and 29.0%, respectively.

One thing that hasn’t changed from last season: his strikeout rate. Taylor entered Friday with 37 strikeouts and seven walks in 101 plate appearances for a 36.6% strikeout rate, the highest among major leaguers with at least 100 plate appearances.

After earning his first All-Star selection in 2021, when he hit .254 with a .782 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 20 homers, 25 doubles and 73 RBIs in 148 games, and signing a four-year, $60-million deal with the Dodgers the next winter, Taylor’s production plummeted in 2022.

Slowed by elbow and neck injuries, Taylor hit .221 with 10 homers and 160 strikeouts in 118 games, a 35.2% strikeout rate that trailed only Joey Gallo among major league hitters with 400 plate appearances.

“It’s not the first time I’ve gotten off to a slow start and lost playing time at the beginning of the year,” said the right-handed-hitting Taylor, who is in more of a platoon role now that shortstop Miguel Rojas has returned from a hamstring injury. “I mean, I’ve been in this situation a lot, so it’s nothing new for me.”

Taylor seemed to turn a corner April 30 with a two-hit game against the St. Louis Cardinals, which sparked a seven-game stretch in which he batted .429 (nine for 21) with a 1.431 OPS, two homers, three doubles and seven RBIs, including a two-run homer in Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Padres in San Diego.

The Dodgers' Chris Taylor bats during the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 30, 2023.
The Dodgers' Chris Taylor seemed to turn a corner April 30 with a two-hit game against St. Louis that sparked a strong seven-game stretch in which he batted .429. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

But after driving a pinch-hit, two-run homer to center field in the ninth inning of Monday night’s 9-3 loss in Milwaukee, Taylor went hitless in four at-bats in the final two games against the Brewers.

“It was a combination of things — just having a good rhythm and being comfortable in the box,” Taylor said of his hot streak. “I think some of the tension is gone, so I feel more relaxed. A lot of times when that happens, you react better, you see the ball better. I’m just playing a little freer.”

Roberts wasn’t about to declare the notoriously streaky Taylor cured of his early season hitting woes, but he did see some signs of progress during that productive seven-game stretch.

“He’s on time with the fastball more, and that’s something where when he’s not going well, he’s in between or late on the fastball,” Roberts said. “Right now, he’s on the heater, which is good.”

Taylor is constantly tinkering with the mechanics of a swing that gets a little long and loopy at times, and he is forever searching for the right feel in the box. Is finding that rhythm more difficult when you’re not playing as much as you usually do?

“No, I think it’s tougher to find the rhythm when you know you're struggling and you're trying so hard to make things happen and trying to feel for things,” Taylor said. “It's easy to lose the rhythm, and that creates a little bit more of that tension and anxiousness.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.