It’s only the fourth spring training game but Bryce Harper already appears to be in midseason form. After playing in his third game on Tuesday, a 3-for-3 performance in a 9-5 loss to the Braves that extended his scorching start to spring training, the Nationals‘ energetic outfielder noticed that his name wasn’t etched in black marker in Wednesday’s lineup. He found Manager Davey Johnson and, like he did on several occasions last season, stated his case.
“‘What am I doing out of the lineup? I want in the lineup,’” Harper said, according to Johnson. “So I’m already getting it,” the manager added with a smile.
Harper got his way because, frankly, it made sense. He wants to get acclimated with the Nationals’ new outfield configuration of Denard Span in center and Jayson Werth in right, an argument Johnson understood. But, more than anything, Harper loves one part of playing baseball more so than others.
“I just like to hit,” he said. “As long as I’m in the lineup, if it’s DH or anything like that. I need some reps in left field also. It’s just as much as [Johnson] wants to play me. I’ll probably play five innings and get my two or three ABs and be done. That’s a pretty good schedule for me. Two days, one day off. Three days on, one day off. I really don’t care. It doesn’t matter.”
With Tuesday’s performance, he is 6 for 8 in spring training. He hit two doubles on Tuesday, one a weird hit that benefited from the wet ground and bounced over first baseman Freddie Freeman’s head into right field. But even though he has hit well so far, Harper admitted he wasn’t sure how indicative it was of how ready he is for the season.
“I faced a couple good guys but they’re not at full bore and I know that,” he said. “Facing [Tuesday's starter Mike] Minor during the season and facing him right now is a little bit different. He’s definitely a little bit sharper during the season. He’s got good stuff right now but it’s always better during the season and you’re going to face a lot of guys that are going to get better during the season.”
Harper said two of the areas he hopes to work on this spring are making sure he squares up balls (read: hit them solidly) and progress with his defense (read: take the right routes to balls and hit the cutoff man on throws.) On one throw in the third inning of Tuesday’s game, he refrained from uncorking a strong throw home and hit his cutoff man instead, holding a runner at second base.
This spring has already been different for Harper. Unlike last season, he doesn’t need to prove he should make the big league team out of spring training. He is the reigning NL rookie of the year, a vital piece of the team’s lineup and here to stay. Although he wouldn’t say it, he suggested he was already more at ease with his standing on the team this spring.
“I feel good going into camp this year and it’s good to know that [Johnson has] already pretty much said, ‘You’re going to be my everyday left fielder,’” Harper said. “So, I like that feeling going into every single game. But you still have to work and compete and try to get better every day and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to try to get my ABs in and try to see as many pitches as I can and just try to barrel up as much as I can without the results. I really don’t care about the results right now as long as I’m barreling stuff up and doing the right things out there that I need to do.”
>>> Ryan Perry allowed five earned runs on six hits and walked two batters in his first appearance of the spring. He came on in relief of Ross Detwiler and ended the third inning with a strikeout of Dan Uggla and limited the damage an inning later by inducing a double play out of Reed Johnson. But Perry unraveled in the fifth inning, allowing all of the runs then. He faced seven batters in that frame and notched only one out.
Perry, who asked to be converted from a reliever to a starter last season, punched up a 2.84 ERA in 73 innings over 13 starts for Class AA Harrisburg after being sent down following a stint as a reliever in the majors. But on Tuesday, Perry was tired in the sixth inning after only 1 1/3 innings of relief.
“He looked like he was out of gas and he even admitted it” to pitching coach Steve McCatty, Johnson said. “He’s out of gas, he’s a starter. Or maybe he thinks he should have a reliever mentality and an inning and a third is good. But we’ll stay with him and stretch him out.”
Johnson said this brief hiccup wasn’t a concern and Perry will continue his development as a starter, calling it a “learning experience.”