Manager Matt Williams said Bryce Harper’s removal from Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Cardinals would be forgotten by Sunday afternoon. Sure enough, Harper is back in the lineup and batting second. We will move on, too – Stephen Strasburg against this Cardinals lineup is plenty of theater to chew on – but not before emptying out a few more thoughts on the matter.
>>> Informal conversations with players and coaches yielded no votes against Williams’s decision. Some gave shrugs, some voiced clear support, but none were angry or felt that Williams had cost the Nationals. My read on that is, Williams has enough credibility with players that they trust the first-year manager to handle the issue of how hard Harper plays.
Some believed Williams had to pull Harper in order to keep and gain respect. In Williams’s words, he and the team made “an agreement” everybody would play hard. If Harper blatantly did not and faced no repercussions, what is the room supposed to think?
The bigger question is, how will Harper respond? He was subdued Saturday and chose his comments well, saying he understood and respected Williams’s decision. Sunday morning, he made a brief appearance in the Nationals’ dugout, staying long enough to grab a bat and head to the batting cage.
>>> The first reaction many had to Williams’s decision is worry that Harper will hustle to make a point and risk injuring himself. That is a legitimate concern. Williams and the Nationals, though, will probably tolerate the kind of body maintenance that leads players to not bust down the line. They will not tolerate utter disregard.
The first phrasing Williams used to explain pulling Harper is key: “The inability to run 90 feet.” If Harper slowly trotted until he touched the bag, I think he would have stayed in the game. One Nationals player agreed: “It just looks like you care,” he said. Harper doesn’t have to race down the line and risk blowing out a hamstring. He just needs to jog another 45 feet.
>>> Anybody would rather have Harper standing at the plate than Kevin Frandsen with the game on line. It’s worth pointing, though, that Harper had some horrendous at-bats Saturday. He scuttled one rally early in the game when he swung at a 3-1 change-up, low and away, and hit into a double play.
Frandsen, meanwhile, submitted an excellent at-bat against fire-breathing closer Trevor Rosenthal. He took two balls and fought off a foul ball, all pitches 98 mph or faster. He then ripped a 97-mph fastball to the left side, forcing third baseman Matt Carpenter to make a tough play.
Harper’s absence may have been felt more when the Cardinals scored their seventh-inning insurance run. With Carpenter on second and two outs, Jordan Zimmermann yielded a single to left to Matt Holliday. Carpenter sprinted home, and Frandsen – not Harper – made an accurate throw to the plate that was a beat late. Harper has one of the strongest outfield arms in baseball, and his throw may have kept the score 3-1.