A curious sight unfolded in the searing heat at Nationals Park on Monday afternoon. With the first game of a marquee series between the Nationals and Red Sox still a few hours away, Bryce Harper was on the field working. But he wasn’t in the batter’s box or patrolling the outfield. He was at first base, with a first baseman’s mitt in hand, taking grounders and advice from Tim Bogar, the Nationals’ infield coach.
Harper, a former catcher, has told Nationals Manager Dave Martinez he wants to play first base. Could he find his way to the infield for the first time in majors soon? Yes, but only in emergency situations.
“It’s just kind of him getting outside of his comfort zone and doing something different,” Martinez said. “And he’s actually not bad. I don’t know if he’ll ever start a game there, but I believe if we’re in a pinch, some kind of decisions in-game, he probably could play there. So it was good to see him out there feeling good working with Bogey. Like I said, here’s a guy that, love him to death because he’ll do whatever it takes for this team to win and help win and that’s part of who Bryce is.”
The Nationals don’t need first basemen. They currently have Daniel Murphy and Mark Reynolds platooning there. Matt Adams, who fractured his finger last month, is playing a rehab game with Class AA Harrisburg on Tuesday and could come off the disabled list as soon as Wednesday. Ryan Zimmerman should arrive shortly after. And the Nationals probably wouldn’t want to add the unfamiliarity to Harper’s plate now that he seems to have finally crept out of his long funk with better showings with his bat over the past 10 games.
Yet, at the same time, putting Harper at first base would clear the logjam in the outfield. With Juan Soto’s emergence and Adam Eaton’s return from the disabled list, Martinez has decided to bench Michael A. Taylor on most days with Soto in left field, Harper in center and Eaton in right. Taylor has batted .357 with an .805 OPS in 46 plate appearances to complement his Gold Glove-caliber defense since Eaton returned, but has started just 10 of Washington’s 19 games.
“I want to play Michael. And I will play Michael,” Martinez said. “He’ll play, but he gets it and he’s done wonderful here the last month or so . . . He just wants to see us win and he’ll do whatever it takes to do it. And it’s hard and I get it. As a player, you want to play every day. I sat on the bench a lot and I always told myself, ‘You can only control the controllables.’ And I tell Mike that. ‘Just hang in there and you’ll get a chance to play.’”
Taylor hasn’t started since Thursday and won’t start again Monday.
— Matt Wieters, Zimmerman and Adams participated in a simulated game at Nationals Park on Monday afternoon, taking swings against a couple of minor leaguers. It was the first time each player has seen live pitching since landing on the disabled list. While Adams could return from a fractured left index finger as early as Wednesday, Zimmerman could go out on a rehab assignment later in the week. He is eligible to come off the disabled list July 9.
Wieters said his goal is to get activated during the Nationals’ final road trip before the all-star break, which begins next Monday in Pittsburgh. The final step is ensuring he can handle running and the starting and stopping playing in games requires. Hitting and catching are not a problem.
Wieters, 32, has struggled at the plate since becoming a National, but he would still represent an offensive upgrade over Pedro Severino and Spencer Kieboom, the pair thrust into catching duties since Wieters went down on May 11. Kieboom is batting .260 with a .560 OPS. Severino is hitting .170 with a .482 OPS. The spot has been a black hole in the lineup for weeks. Wieters, whose game-calling is also superior, would provide a boost.
— Exactly three years after signing with the Nationals for $1.5 million as a 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic, Juan Soto was named National League Rookie of the Month for June. He led NL rookies in batting average (.317), OPS (1.050), home runs (6), and walks (18). He reached base safely in 22 of the 24 games.
RED SOX (56-29)
Mookie Betts RF
Andrew Benintendi LF
Xander Bogaerts SS
Mitch Moreland 1B
Rafael Devers 3B
Brock Holt 2B
Sandy Leon C
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Rick Porcello P
Adam Eaton RF
Trea Turner SS
Juan Soto LF
Anthony Rendon 3B
Bryce Harper CF
Daniel Murphy 1B
Wilmer Difo 2B
Pedro Severino C
Max Scherzer P
Read more on the Nationals: