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Chris Taylor’s phone might be the key to unlocking the secret to his past success

There’s a notes app on Chris Taylor’s phone that the Dodgers’ outfielder opens all the time, a simple but useful system he developed long ago to keep track of his ever-evolving swing.

In it, the 10th-year veteran has maintained a catalog of batting tips, from mental cues and mechanical sense to coaching advice and personal observations.

Many of them go back years, stemming from the career-changing swing changes Taylor made during his rise with the Dodgers in 2017.

Since then, he’s been unafraid to edit the list, routinely jotting down new thoughts and scrapping old ones – especially at times like these, as he looks to rectify his dismal 2022 performance this spring.

“Last season I felt like I had created some bad habits,” said Taylor. “So I’m just trying to create a more efficient swing.”

It’s a task that could be critical for Taylor and the Dodgers, as the club’s new roster desperately needs the 32-year-old to recover from his injury-plagued and strikeout-prone struggles last season.

After making his first All-Star selection in 2021 and signing a four-year, $60 million deal with the Dodgers the following winter, Taylor’s performance plummeted last season. He hit just .221 with 10 home runs. He also struckout 160 batters in 118 games, a 35.2% strikeout percentage that trailed only Joey Gallo among MLB batters with 400 at bats.

Off-season elbow surgery and a late-season neck injury added to Taylor’s struggles, but his swing seemed broken throughout the season. Since his 2017 overhaul at the plate, the superutility player had looked unmatched and out of sync.

“Once you get into the box, it’s really hard when you try to think about your mechanics,” Taylor said. “And last year was just a constant battle to find it and also perform.”

Not even referencing old notes could save Taylor – revealing a hard truth about many players who look like him and go through major mid-career swing changes.

“The change works for a while,” Dodgers special assistant Chris Woodward said. “And then they kind of hit a plateau. Like, “I can’t feel the way I felt before.” ”

Woodward would know, especially when it comes to Taylor.

“Last season I felt like I had created some bad habits. So I’m just trying to create a more efficient swing.

– Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor

When the fifth-round draft pick broke into the majors with the Seattle Mariners in 2014, Woodward was part of the club’s coaching staff.

When Taylor was traded to the Dodgers in 2016, after three disappointing seasons in which his future was in doubt, Woodward was the Dodgers’ third base coach.

Woodward was as impressed as anyone with Taylor’s changes in 2017, as he transformed his natural hitting motion by adding a bigger leg kick, improving his pre-swing hand position and exploding through the ball with amazing frequency.

“It was very different,” said Woodward, who left the Dodgers in 2019 to manage the Texas Rangers before returning this offseason to a part front office, part on-field instructional role. “He had to make some adjustments. There were some things he had to add.

Taylor became an integral part of the Dodgers teams that won three National League pennants and one World Series from 2017 to 2021. In each of those seasons, he had an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of at least .775 while on played multiple positions. providing the club with much needed defensive versatility. He even reached 20 homeruns twice, something that seemed unthinkable after he hit one in his first three big league-seasons.

But just as a renovated house needs constant maintenance, or a refurbished sports car needs regular tweaks, Taylor had to consistently tinker with his swing – trying to maintain the same intricate motion amid inevitable changes to his body and its mechanics. .

And last year, that “high maintenance” approach, as manager Dave Roberts called it, finally caught up with him.

“I’ve seen so many hitters go through that,” Woodward said. “When you switch swings, it usually feels pretty good when you first do it. And once it gets normal, your body adjusts and your brain adjusts. You get a little numb to what it feels like.”

Enter Taylor’s note-taking routine, which has given him a new perspective on his swing work this spring.

“Some of the thoughts that may have worked for me in the past ended up being too much, where I went too far the other way,” Taylor said, sounding like a golfer who threw away a slice but now hooks up too many drives. . “Sometimes it takes a while to find out what those adjustments are. I have to find new ways to get into the positions I want.”

The clock is ticking for him to do this.

Chris Taylor, who worked on infield drills during spring training, could play more at shortstop due to Gavin Lux’s injury.

(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Entering camp, Taylor looked poised for a likely outfield platoon role as he worked through his final changes. However, after Gavin Lux’s season-ending knee injury, Taylor should perhaps be more of an everyday player, lining up to be the backup shortstop alongside the primary midfielder.

Woodward said he is encouraged by Taylor’s progress so far, despite his three-for-16 performance in Cactus League games.

“The swing is on time, there’s consistency with (the mechanics),” said Woodward. “It’s only a matter of time before he starts hammering balls.”

Roberts also remains optimistic about Taylor’s recovery this season, though he noted he was still “hesitant” about making defining assessments this early in the spring.

“A recalibration of the body is taking place,” Roberts said. “I know our guys are doing their best to dial him in and keep him. But there are a lot of moving parts.”

Taylor, who went to Driveline over the winter to speed up his adjustments, offered a similar self-assessment. While he’s been feeling better in the batting cage in recent days, he acknowledged there are still many variables — from his approach to hand position — that need to be addressed.

“No, it’s not fun for me at all,” he said with a lighthearted laugh when asked if he liked the challenge of his trial. “I would like to have the same thoughts every day.”

As he discussed every nuance and nuisance, Taylor stood by his locker in the Dodgers’ Camelback Ranch clubhouse this week, Taylor looked over his shoulder and nodded enviously at teammate Freddie Freeman’s booth.

“I’m jealous of guys like Freddie, who’s had the same swing all his career,” Taylor said. “Boys like that, they are gifted. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t work his butt off. But they were gifted to hit and have a great swing.”

For Taylor, hitting the majors has never come easier.

He’s got the crossed-out cell phone notes to prove it.