For Bryce Harper, no rush to judgment

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Adam Kilgore
Copyright 2011
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 9:41 AM

The most important thing to remember about Bryce Harper's seven-pitch, two-strikeout debut is that no important conclusions can be drawn from it. Some may want to use yesterday as evidence Harper's inability handle big league breaking balls. I'm not sure we can get that specific yet. Yesterday, Taylor Tankersley and Ryota Igarashi, in a span of seven pitches, fed him five offspeed offerings. All of them were strikes, three of them on swing-and-misses. Maybe you want to glean that Harper will struggle with breaking balls. His most freakish attribute is his bat spend, and maybe pitchers will force him to slow his bat down with a constant diet of sliders, changeups and curves. But, remember, this was one game, played under the unique circumstances of his major league debut. Afterward, Harper repeated again and again how comfortable and strong he felt. In his first game, though, there was surely some kind of extra feeling for him. "I don't if nervous is the right word," hitting coach Rick Eckstein said. "I know he was amped up." And so, for one day, offspeed pitches were going to be extra difficult for Harper. He got too "quick" with his swing, both he and Eckstein said. His hands moved too early, his front shoulder opened too soon. Maybe on another day, he could have waited back and, as he said he wanted to do, "hit the ball over the third baseman's head." One other Nationals played has experienced something mildly similar to Harper's debut at 18. Ian Desmond made his first spring training appearance at 19, months after the Nationals chose him out of Sarasota High in the third round. "I don't remember exactly how I felt," Desmond said. "It was something like, 'Swing, swing, swing, swing, and maybe you'll hit it. I didn't have quite the hype that he had. I snuck my way in. He has the whole entourage come in." So, no matter how good he felt, Harper's excitement was probably going to add a unique degree of difficulty yesterday to having the patience to hit the curveball. Now, the point here is not that Harper doesn't need the work or doesn't need to improve against major-league breaking stuff. Of course he must improve - that's why he won't start his career in the majors and probably won't get there this season. He's never seen anything quite like the halfway decent major league pitchers he saw yesterday. I'm also not dismissing his struggles with breaking balls as the possible beginning to a trend. Maybe it is. But after one measly day and seven scant pitches, we still don't know what to make of Bryce Harper, Major Leaguer except for what we already knew: He's 18 and, in his words, "I've got a long ways to go." FROM THE POST Boz says the Nationals are more optimistic than they're letting on about their pitching staff. Bryce Harper whiffed twice in his debut, then took it in stride. Boz chatted yesterday.


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