This trio will play together through 2016, at least. With Harper’s arrival just six weeks old, how have the Nats coped with such a stirring and shaking of their clubhouse culture? Not much hinges on it: only the franchise future.
Perhaps one incident captures the current tone. After Harper smashed his bat in anger last month, cutting himself above his eye when the bat recoiled, he got 10 stitches. When he and Rick Ankiel were in the outfield minutes later, the dazed Harper asked the vet, “Does it look okay? Am I still bleeding?”
“Oh, you’re good to go,” Ankiel lied, straight-faced.
So, now the sports world has a classic photo of Harper with a six-inch stream of blood running down the side of his face, a picture that will follow him, and maybe define, in an odd but flattering way, his style at 19.
“Yeah, that story’s right,” Harper said Thursday. “Awesome guys. I’ve really been lucky.” And he meant it.
In the annals of baseball unhappiness, the Nats are useless to us now. Give them time. Maybe they’ll learn to bicker. For now, the first-place Nats look at Strasburg’s icy mound demeanor, Harper’s fiery, sometimes comic hustle and Gonzalez’s hat-cocked house party on the mound and think this is just what they needed to turn an average team with a strong clubhouse into a team that, past the one-third mark of their season, is still on a 94-win pace.
Gonzalez has spliced humor and laughter between the sober Strasburg and serious Jordan Zimmermann. He fits between them in their 1-2-3 rotation slots and on the top step of the dugout during games where they and Edwin Jackson are inseparable. Zimmermann and Strasburg often look like they could use cheering up and that’s pretty much Gio’s purpose in life.
“You’d have to be some kind of really miserable person to resent Gio and think, ‘Why is he so happy all the time,’ ” Ankiel said. “Harper brings that big, young energy. And he brings it every day. He’s fun to watch.
“With Strasburg, you understand the frustrations of the game. You see his talent and just want it to express itself,” said Ankiel, who was once one of the game’s most dazzling young pitchers and knows whereof he speaks.
Sometimes stars invade each other’s space and steal what the others need to thrive. But Strasburg provides the oak-tree ace in whose shadow Gonzalez can flourish. “I just want to pick Stras up after his start so he doesn’t feel like the whole weight is on him,” Gonzalez said.
Zimmermann’s ego is so contained he just enjoys blending. “When you line ’em up there’s no jealousy or envy,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “From the first day everybody was comfortable with where they are.