By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Playing time can be difficult to find in a crowded outfield, but Nico Taylor is doing his best to stay on the field.
Taylor, who began the season in Vancouver, returned to Bluefield last week, and has produced, including a first inning home run in the Blue Jays’ 5-1 Appalachian League win over the struggling Bristol White Sox in front of 980 on a muggy Saturday night at Bowen Field.
“A little bit, I was surprised, but I love to come out here so it is wasn’t too bad,” said Taylor, who has gone 5 for 11 in five games since being sent to Bluefield from Vancouver early last week. “I was playing, but it was kind of one of those situations to where I needed to come to get some more at-bats.
“I was playing, but it was one of things, it was a move they decided to make so I have accepted it.”
Bluefield (18-10) actually went deep three times against Bristol starter Jordan Guerrero, including Taylor’s solo shot in the first, and a pair of solo homers in the third by Jonathan Davis and Mitch Nay.
“We had three home runs today,” Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg said. “I would have liked to have seen them be two-run or three-run home runs, but they measured up and made a difference in the ball game and we had some good quality at-bats tonight.”
The Blue Jays also scored twice in the second on a two-run single by Jesus Gonzalez, who worked earlier the day with farm director Doug Davis, who is in town with several staff members of the Toronto hierarchy, including outfield and baserunning instructor Tim Raines, a seven-time All-Star, who threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch.
“Sometimes you get a little nervous when everybody’s eyes are on them and they might try to do too much,” Holmberg said. “Gonzo was out early taking some swings from Doug Davis, and he had a few good at-bats and drove in a couple of runs and give us two more runs to give us the 3-0 lead.
“Timmy Raines was here working with the basestealers today, taking them around the bases. It is always nice having them in. It is tough having a lot of them, but they all somehow collectively showed up here in Bluefield for this series.”
Four Bluefield pitchers were also effective, led by Shane Dawson, who allowed one hits and a run in 3 1/3 innings on the mound. Adaric Kelly finished up the fourth, and Chase De Jong — who’s mother was the ‘female fan of the game’ — surrendered three hits and struck out four in four innings on the mound. Brett Barber worked the ninth for the Blue Jays.
That quartet combined to struck out 10 and walk just two, as the White Sox (8-19) dropped their fifth in a row, with the club’s team batting average sitting at .230.
“We have struggled as of late with runners in scoring position and coming up with a hit,” Bristol manager Mike Gellinger said. “That is baseball, you have got to get that key hit and make the key plays and you win games.”
Taylor, a 38th round draft choice out of Northwood University in Texas in 2011, hit .268 in 49 games in Bluefield last summer, but was batting just .234 in limiting playing time in Vancouver.
“Nico had a fine year last year, as of here we have got about six outfielders and as up there they had a number of outfielders and it is tough finding some playing time,” Holmberg said. “I told him when he got here, there is really no promises, but we had (three straight) doubleheaders and we saw some left-handed pitching.
“(Derrick) Loveless had been struggling a little bit and it gave (Taylor) an opportunity to get in there and he showed his worth and his experience by getting some hits and the home run for him was nice tonight.”
Taylor clobbered a two-out change-up from Guerrero well over the left field fence.
“It felt good, he hung a change-up, I was looking fastball, but he left it up in the zone and I took a pretty good swing,” said Taylor, who has been working with Bluefield hitting coach Ken Huckaby. “You have to credit Huck and those guys for working with us, they work hard and it is paying off.”
Two more runs crossed in the second when Jorge Saez singled, Matt Dean doubled and Gonzalez bought both in with a single to center field. The only other Bluefield runs came in the third on the solo home runs by Davis and Nay.
“It is tough to defend home runs, we actually played a solid game, we just got beat tonight,” Gellinger said. “If you saw us play the night before we beat ourselves, but tonight we can honestly say we just got beat and they hit the ball hard.”
Five runs were plenty for the Blue Jays, as four Bluefield pitchers limited Bristol to seven singles. Bristol’s lone run came in the fourth when Trey Michalczewski singled, moved to second on an errant pickoff throw by Dawson and scored on a single from Nolan Earley.
“It was a great game as a team, we got off to that hot start early and then our pitchers had to do what they had to do,” Taylor said. “We have a lot of young pitchers, but there is a lot of talent on this team.”
That includes Taylor, who didn’t find the baseball a lot different in Vancouver than it has been in Bluefield.
“Baseball-wise, there is a lot of college guys there, a lot of guys my age there, like 23 coming out of college,” said Taylor, a native of McKinney, Texas, just outside of Dallas. “You get guys that a little more polished around the zone, but you get the same amount of velocity here. They pitch just as hard here as they do over there so there is not too much of a difference in that aspect.”
While Bluefield continues to maintain a two-game lead in the East Division, the White Sox are in last place in the West, with that 8-19 mark better than only Princeton in the league.
The Blue Jays will face Bristol again today at 2:05 p.m. Tazewell native Zak Wasilewski will start on the mound for the Blue Jays.
“You can see in the standings they are struggling,” Holmberg said. “You can check in the box scores every night, but you can never take anybody lightly, you have to go out there and play hard and play harder than them and hopefully you out-hit them and out-score them.”
The task for Taylor is simply to reverse course, and earn a move forward in the Toronto farm system.
“Absolutely, that is always your goal,” Taylor said. “The ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues so you have to take stepping stones to get there.”
— Contact Brian Woodson:
at Bowen Field
Bristol........................000 100 000 — 1 7 0
Bluefield....................122 000 00x — 5 7 1
Jordan Guerrero, Yelmison Peralta (4), Chris Boydston (5), Jon Bengard (7), Andre Wheeler (8) and Zach Stoner. Shane Dawson, Adaric Kelly (4), Chase De Jong (5), Brett Barber (9) and Jorge Saez. W—De Jong (2-0); Guerrero (0-3). HR—Nico Taylor (1), 1st 0 on; Jonathan Davis (1), 3rd 0 on; Mitch Nay (2), 3rd 0 on. Att—980.