Bryce Harper began another new season today with another new view. He settled into left field this afternoon in the Nationals’ first Grapefruit League game, his new position with Denard Span taking over in center and Jayson Werth still laying claim to right.
“I’ve switched positions every year, I guess you could say,” Harper said. “First year I played in right, second year I played here in center field, and this year I’m playing left.”
Harper has played left field before, during his first professional season at Class A Hagerstown. No one thinks Harper will have any trouble with regaining comfort in left – he’s too gifted as an athlete and too natural as a player. But there will be some adjustment.
Balls hit by left-handed batters are difficult to read in left field, because they tend to hook down the line. Manager Davey Johnson said that would be the most difficult difference, and Harper received an adventurous lesson today.
In the third inning, Kirk Nieuwenhuis roped a liner to left off Craig Stammen. Harper sprinted to his right and stabbed at the ball. He knocked the ball down off the heel of his glove, bopped it back into the air with his right forearm, then snagged it with his glove for a juggling out.
“Highlight film,” Johnson said. “It’s always something with him.”
“There was just a little bit of fade on it, but I caught, so I don’t care,” Harper said. “It’s an out.”
Harper’s presence in left field will also mean a slight adjustment for Ian Desmond. First, he’s not quite as worried about the outfielder behind him.
“He’s a big kid, but he’s no Morse,” Desmond said. “I’m not quite as scared running into him as I was Morse.”
Harper can also cover much more ground than Morse, which will mean more need for communication between Desmond and his left field. Today, John Buck skied a pop up to shallow left. Desmond backpedaled under the ball, but Harper charged and screamed, “I got it!” Desmond stepped out of the way and Harper made the easy catch, just as the Nationals practiced Friday.
“He’s obviously a very good outfielder,” Desmond said. “He got so much better last year. I think he’s just going to continue to progress. Having him in left, being able to cover a ton of ground, and then Denard in center, there’s not going to be too many balls I’m going to have to go for over my head. That’s good for me, good for my body, things like that.
“Today was a good indication of that. I got a good break on the ball, but he called me off. It went seamlessly, which is what you want. Today was great. He didn’t feel like timid or shy or anything to call me. He was loud and had some authority. I think it’s going to be pretty seamless.”
At the plate, Harper was his usual, aggressive self. On the very first pitch he saw from Mets starter Shaun Marcum, Harper annihilated a liner foul down the right field line, scattering the Nationals relievers in the exposed bullpen. A few pitches later, he rolled a single through the right side of the infield.
“I like swinging,” Harper said. “You guys know that.”