During Bryce Harper’s first seven plate appearances against them, the Phillies decided they would pitch around the 19-year-old batting third and pitch to the $126 million cleanup hitter. Between Friday night and his first plate appearance Saturday, the Phillies walked Harper and brought Jayson Werth to the plate four times.
In those four chances, Werth failed to make them pay. He struck out twice, walked once and grounded into a double play. He later redeemed himself with a three-run homer. But the telling part was this: One week into Harper’s career, with Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche sidelined, an opponent had identified as the primary threat in the Nationals’ lineup.
“He’s getting a lot of respect for not being here more than a couple days,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s getting a lot of respect. They’re kind of pitching him tough. I mean, in, out, lot of offspeed stuff, behind in the count. They’re not giving in to him.”
After Friday night’s game, when Harper drew three walks, Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick allowed he had centered his gameplan on the rookie. “I wasn’t going to let [Harper] beat me,” Kendrick told Philadelphia reporters. “He’s swinging it well now. That was the scouting report.”
Harper has taken advantage. He has drawn five walks in his 29 plate appearances, and his on-base percentage, in an awfully small sample size, is .379.
“He’s aggressive,” Werth said. “For him to get in good counts, seeing pitches like that, it’s good. It shows his patience at the plate.”
Harper, who Saturday went 0 for 4 after his first-inning walk, has exercised the patience in crucial spots. In his second game, he took a walk in the ninth to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. Friday night, his 11th-inning walk extended the inning for Werth, who extended it for Wilson Ramos, who nailed the game-winning single.
“In the big moments, you can tell who has it and who doesn’t,” Zimmerman said. “He stays calm. A lot of people, when the stadium gets loud, they get out of themselves. They let the moment take over. Bryce has been in those situations a couple times. Bryce has done a really good job of just letting them game come to him.”