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Posted at 06:53 PM ET, 08/01/2012

Could Stephen Strasburg pinch hit? And what about Bryce Harper catching?


(Andrew Innerarity - REUTERS)
Yesterday, Stephen Strasburg had a better night at the plate than on the mound. He scuffled to a four-inning, six-run start, but he went 1 for 2 with a single. The hitting line actually lowered his slugging percentage, from .548 to .545.

His 39 plate appearances, of course, are not enough to qualify him. But his .333/.405/.545 slash line leads the Nationals in all three categories – average, on-base percentage and slugging. His .951 OPS would rank seventh among pitchers since divisional play began in 1969.

Strasburg’s prowess at the plate combined with the Nationals’ four-man bench leads to a goofy, but necessary, question: Would Davey Johnson consider pinch-hitting with his ace?

“I’ve thought about it,” Johnson said. “The way he runs the bases, I might need a base runner. So I’d have him and [Edwin] Jackson, the duo.”

In actuality, the risk of injury to Strasburg would be too great for Johnson to send him to the box on a day he’s not starting.

“He’d probably like it,” Johnson said. “But that’s kind of like, what if my last catcher got hurt? Would I catch [Bryce Harper]? No. So I probably won’t hit Stras. I don’t want nothing to happen to him hittin’ when he ain’t pitchin’. But I’ve thought about it.”

Harper played catcher throughout his amateur career, but the Nationals immediately made him an outfielder to lighten his workload and get him to the majors quicker. But Harper has not completely locked away his catching desires.

One day earlier this year, just for kicks, he crouched behind the plate during batting practice and made throws to second base. Today, he played long toss wearing a catcher’s mitt (which went nicely with his bright red, “Suns Out, Guns Out” tank top). Johnson has seen hints, too.

“He wants to put it on,” Johnson said. “I think it was in Milwaukee. I was walking out of the clubhouse, and there he was, squatting down with that full gear on. I just kept walking. I didn’t even want to know. But I’m not going there.”

For the record: Mark DeRosa volunteered to catch if the Nationals need an emergency backstop, and so he’s the third catcher.

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By  |  06:53 PM ET, 08/01/2012

 
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