Center fielder Denard Span, the player most affected by Bryce Harper’s public disagreement with Manager Matt Williams’s lineup, provided a high-road response Tuesday afternoon to Harper’s comments.
Speaking to The Post alone at his locker, Span expressed surprised at Harper making his opinion public but said he would still support Harper.
“In all my years of playing baseball, I’ve never been talked about by another teammate,” Span said. “At the same time, it’s okay. I would never talk about another teammate. At the end of the day, we’re trying to win a championship. That’s what it’s all about. At the end of the day, he’s still one of my teammates. I’ll stick up for him any given day of the week. I don’t have any ill feelings toward him at all. I’ll just leave it at that.”
After Harper returned from the disabled list Monday afternoon and created a lineup logjam, Harper said he believes Ryan Zimmerman should play left field, Danny Espinosa should play second base and Anthony Rendon should play third. Harper never mentioned Span by name, but only one reasonable conclusion could be inferred: Harper wanted to play center field, which would send Span – the Nationals’ .265-hitting leadoff hitter and their best defensive outfielder – to the bench.
Span said he has not spoken to Harper about his comments, but that he assumes there is no fissure between them.
“We don’t have any problems,” Span said. “We haven’t had any discussions, any conversations. But I’m fine.”
Shortly after Span spoke, Manager Matt Williams attempted to diffuse the controversy, stating he and Harper have “no rift” and said he stands behind Harper unconditionally. Williams was asked if he had spoken to Harper about his comments, and Williams responded with a defense of their scrutinized relationship.
“Oh, I talked to Bryce, certainly,” Williams said. “And I got to let you guys know something: I got Bryce’s back in every way. That will not change. I want him to play every day, and I want him to play the way Bryce knows how to play. He’s going to hit in different spots in the lineup, and he’s okay with that. And he’s going to play in different spots in the outfield, and he’s okay with that, too. I know there’s a lot made of it, and there’s a lot of discussion about it. But he and I are good. There’s no rift. We have a conversation every day. I got his back, and I support him all the way. I’m happy to write his name in the lineup every single day. Who wouldn’t be?”
Williams said he did not talk to Harper about how teammates may have perceived his remarks, only that he supported him.
“Part of my job is to do that,” Williams said. “I admire his talents and the way he plays the game, and how happy that we are that we have him on our team. That’s the extent of it. That will not change. There’s no problem between he and I, certainly. There never has been. I respect him. He respects me. I’m really happy to put Harper in that lineup every day. It gives us a very good chance to go out there and win a ballgame.”
Nationals veterans in the clubhouse declined to comment on Harper’s comments, wanting to let Williams speak for the team. Generally, the reaction seemed to be wide eyes and open mouths, more surprised that Harper would speak out than outwardly angry.
They also agreed that the situation would solve itself if the Nationals keep winning. Harper played a thrilling game Monday night in the Nationals’ 7-3 victory, going 1 for 3 with an intentional walk, making a pair of startling throws from the outfield and dashing from first to third to score a run on Ian Desmond’s game-changing, bases-loaded double.
General Manager Mike Rizzo was unavailable to comment Tuesday afternoon.