In the eight games Nationals fans have gotten to see Bryce Harper, they’ve seen an array of plays. And before a national audience on Sunday night against a division rival, he added more. He stole home in the first inning after being plunked in the backside. He was the only National player to solve Phillies starter Cole Hamels, notching two hits off of him. He stretched a soft single to left field into a double. He helped save a run with a sliding catch and with the threat of his strong arm.
“It’s fun to watch,” Manager Davey Johnson said of Harper’s aggressiveness.
Harper’s impact has not only added spark to the Nationals, especially at a time when the offense has been ravaged by injuries, it has shown that his game and style of play make him among the most electrifying and potent players in baseball.
Since his debut on April 28, Harper is tied for the most doubles in the major leagues with five. (Chicago Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair also has five doubles in that span.)
“I think our whole team, we all bust our butt every day,” Harper said. “Our organization preaches that. It really gets going and plays hard. That’s all you can ask for.”
In the eighth inning, Harper, 19, did what he has, in a week, already become known for around here: play aggressively. He smacked a high, inside changeup from Hamels over the shortstop and into shallow left field. Halfway to first base, Harper looked ready to stretch the single into a double. And it helped that Juan Pierre, not known for his arm, in left field. Harper slid head first into second base safely.
Harper also singled in the third inning, his first at-bat after his brush up with Hamels, taking an inside pitch and hitting it the other way.
Much has been said and written about Harper not only as a prospect but since his debut over a week ago. But, in all fairness, the Kid, as Johnson calls him, has shown why already and endeared himself to many, including his veteran teammates.
“A lot of times, whether it’s coaches or media, you get caught up and you go, ‘Wow,’ ” Porter said. “Is it ‘wow’ because he’s playing the game unlike other people? Or is he playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played? You ask me, he plays the way it’s supposed to be played. Not many guys have the ability he has.”
Harper is still learning to harness some aspects of his talent. He tracked down a deep fly ball to left field in the ninth inning, reaching for it with
his glove and dropping it, narrowly missing what would have been a tough catch.
“He’s smart,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “I think his baseball IQ, the way he adjusts and the things he does at his age are impressive. The double as well, to know what kind of arm you have in left field, just kind of the knowledge. He’ll learn. It’s only the beginning of it, that’s the scary part. He’s only going to get better.”
At first, Nationals officials were worried that Harper was being rushed into major league action too soon because of a need to spark an injured offense and may have to be sent back to the minor leagues. Even though he was hitting .250 at Class AAA Syracuse, his performance in the major leagues since has alleviated those concerns.
“He’s been good,” Werth said earlier this week. “He’s focused. I think he’s where he needs to be. Minor leagues is tough. Sometimes it’s tougher than people realize. I like him here with the right coaches, the right manager, the right teammates. I think that’s going to help his development than with him being anywhere else.”
FROM THE POST:
Harper steals home but the Nationals lose to the Phillies, 9-3, and lose their starting right fielder to injury.
Johnson commands the respect of his players and they listen to him, writes Jason Reid.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL:
Jayson Werth breaks his left wrist while sliding to catch a liner to right fielder in Sunday’s loss.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES:
Lehigh Valley 11, Syracuse 2: Catcher Jeff Howell and left fielder Xavier Paul drove in their team’s only runs.
Binghamton 2, Harrisburg 1: Starter Robert Gilliam allowed one unearned run on five hits in six innings.
Potomac 3, Wilmington 1: Starter Matthew Grace earned his second victory of the season, pitching 6 2 / 3 innings and allowing only one run on eight hits.
Augusta 4, Hagerstown 1: Third baseman Matthew Skole drove in the Suns’s only run on a single in the eighth inning.