Nationals Journal: Bryce Harper records his first hit during Nationals spring training
Last night, Bryce Harper went home, talked to his father about the two strikeouts on seven pitches that marked his first appearance on a major league field and laughed. Hours after they happened, Harper stopped thinking about the strikeouts.
"That was yesterday," he said. "Today is today."
And today, in his second spring training game, Harper moved on with his first hit on a big-league field, an opposite field single off of hard-throwing New York Mets right-handed reliever Pedro Beato. Harper went 1 for 2 and made his first appearance in the field, nearly throwing out a runner at home plate with a one-hop throw from deep right field.
Harper started his day watching film and talking with his father, who taught him his swing in a backyard batting cage. Harper noticed his hands moving backward to start his swing too quickly, a tick that Monday made him vulnerable to offspeed pitches. He had dealt with the problem before.
"My first two weeks into college, I was like 3 for 18 or something like that," Harper said. "I was actually doing the same exact thing - a little jumpy, things like that. I felt really good out there today."
Harper entered the game in the bottom of the fifth, as a pinch-hitter for Jayson Werth, who went 0 for 1 with a walk in a strikeout in his Nationals debut. Harper fell behind 0-1 against Beato, a 24-year-old who can throw 97. Beato threw him an outside fastball.
"It was a good pitch to drive," Harper said.
Harper took an easy swing and swatted the ball on a line to left field. On Monday, he talked about the importance of staying back driving the ball the other way. He had done exactly that.
"That's not an easy ball to get on top of," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "He's shown that stroke right there quite a bit through the fall and then in batting practice here. That's a great stroke to be able to get on top of a high fastball. He did it there."
Once on base, Harper promptly found himself trying to break up a double play, sliding hard into second baseman Brad Emaus on a double play ball by Ryan Zimmerman. ("I got a little raspberry," Harper said, showing off a reddened, scraped knee. "So I didn't like it that much.")
The inning over, Harper trotted out to right field, a welcome development. He had only played as a designated hitter Monday, which drove him nuts. He wants to be out there. During Arizona Fall League games he could only watch because he was a taxi squad member, Harper would sometimes stand with a bat on the top step, just to feel part of the game.
"I think that's huge," Harper said. "I can't stand DHing. I like to go in the field all the time."
Harper showed off the right arm that, in high school, he used to throw 96 mile-per-hour fastballs. With two outs in the ninth and a runner on second, a single to right bounded Harper's way. He fielded the ball smoothly and fired home. Derek Norris attempted a sweep tag that, had the ball not popped out of his glove, would have nabbed the runner sliding home.
The game ended one batter later, the Nationals a winner, 5-3. Harper walked into the clubhouse. There was no ball waiting for him, nothing to signify his first hit against a big leaguer. This is spring training, nothing more. It is time for looking at film and making adjustments, not for totems and commemoration.
"I could care less," Harper said. "I was really happy to get it out of the way."