“It sucks,” Harper said. “I don’t like facing guys like that. I’d rather face a hard lefty or something like that. I don’t like facing slow guys. It’s not very fun.”
Harper’s first at-bat against Hernandez, the old Nationals slop-slinging warhorse now hanging on as a middle reliever for Atlanta, came in the sixth inning Sunday night. You could not find two more disparate players in all of baseball.
The pitcher was 37, a Cuban defector who plies his trade on guile and easy-going joy. The hitter was 19, raised in Las Vegas and fast-tracked into the major leagues, who plays with a rare aggression and frenzied disdain for opponents.
Hernandez got ahead of Harper with a 68-mph curveball; Harper nearly swung at the pitch twice, once his vicious hack and once on the backswing. Hernandez finished off Harper with another curve, this one 63. Harper just about left his feet swinging over it. He looked around the stadium, trying to find a radar gun.
“I was trying to get out and get something on the ground up the middle, or get something to that left side,” Harper said. “He made two good pitches, the slow curveballs. There was nothing I could do about it. I tip my cap.”
Harper did not enjoy himself, but he had taken a lesson. He needed to swing more under control against Hernandez. When Harper led off the eighth, he had another chance. Hernandez got ahead of Harper with a slider. He tried another, 79 mph, and Harper annihilated it into the seats.
Harper had drilled his second homer in as many days. One had come off Jonny Venters, a lefty with lightning in his arm. The other had come off Hernandez, a right-hander with spaghetti in his arm.
Harper’s night – 2 for 4 with a walk and the homer – had lifted his OPS to .901. He is, again, 19 years old. He’s slugging .525 with a .376 on-base percentage. It takes some time to wrap your mind around that.
FROM THE POST
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Columbus 9, Syracuse 1: Mark Teahen went 2 for 4 with two doubles. Jhonatan Solano went 1 for 4. Tanner Roark allowed nine runs in 3 1 / 3 innings on six hits and six walks, striking out four.
Harrisburg 6, Reading 5: Jesus Valdez went 3 for 4 with a double and two home runs. Jeff Mandel allowed four earned runs in 6 1 / 3 innings on 10 hits and no walks, striking out seven.
Lynchburg 6, Potomac 1: Blake Kelso went 1 for 4.
Hagerstown 7, Lakewood 6: Brian Goodwin went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk. Steven Souza went 3 for 5 with a triple. Matt Skole went 0 for 2 with three walks.