Having already stated his desire to play in the next World Baseball Classic, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper nearly talked his way into this year’s tournament.
This week, after a rib injury knocked out Team USA third baseman David Wright, Harper contacted team officials and volunteered to replace Wright on the roster. Harper had no designs on playing third base, but he definitely wanted in.
After Wright’s injury, Harper got in touch with players’ association representative Tony Clark. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’m all for it,’ ” Harper said. “If they need me, if they don’t get Headley, I’ll come play and play wherever they need me. I was all for it.”
General Manager Mike Rizzo said he would have allowed Harper to join the WBC. “We wanted to win,” he said.
Team USA chose Padres third baseman Chase Headley as the prospective replacement for Wright. Ultimately, Puerto Rico eliminated Team USA on Friday night and never needed Headley anyway. But Harper would have filled in otherwise.
“They needed somebody that could play third,” Harper said today, coincidentally wearing a T-shirt bearing the logo of comic book hero Captain America. “Headley, he was the guy. No problem. They just let me know, and ‘All right.’ ”
Harper, 20, originally declined to participate because he is preparing for his first major league opening day, he is learning to play left field on a full-time basis and he needed to get used to playing with new center fielder Denard Span.
Last week, Harper told FoxSports.com he planned to participate in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Even though he tried to get on the team this year, he had no regrets about not joining Team USA from the start.
“I had things to do here, try to learn a new position and do it with Denard,” Harper said. “Four years from now, I think it’ll be good. I’ll be excited to play. I’ve been playing for USA my whole life. Anything I can do to support my country and wear USA across my chest is good for me. I love it.”
If Harper needed any more convincing, teammate Ross Detwiler could provide it. Detwiler, who notched a four-inning save in his lone WBC appearance, returned to the Nationals this afternoon. Detwiler, sitting at his locker today next to a new WBC duffel bag, said he cherished his experience.
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Detwiler said. “I take a lot of pride in somebody asking me to represent my country. It was a no-brainer for me. I understand if people have lingering injuries. But if somebody is scared to get hurt, then why are you playing the game? That kind of happens in professional sports.”
Team USA won both games when either Detwiler or Gio Gonzalez pitched, and lost all three when they did not. “I really felt we were better than what we showed,” Detwiler said. “Sometimes, the game goes that way.”
Some players stay away from the event so it does not deter from their preparation to start the season, but Detwiler found the experience to be only beneficial. He talked pitching during games with pitching coach Greg Maddux, discussing which pitchers to throw in what counts. He threw four bullpen sessions as Maddux watched on.
Detwiler will start in Lakeland tomorrow. Gonzalez remained in Miami, Manager Davey Johnson said, to visit with friends and family before he makes his next start.