Friday, March 2, 2012

Harper's uneventful debut

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bryce Harper leads off first base during today's game against Georgetown.
VIERA, Fla. -- Bryce Harper ambled to the plate for the bottom of the third inning, staring down Georgetown sophomore right-hander Jack Vander Linden, as a crowd of 1,341 at Space Coast Stadium watched, hoping to see Harper swing his mighty bat and see the baseball soar into the Viera sky.

And what did they get from the 19-year-old Nationals phenom? A drag bunt. Yes, a drag bunt. Not a terribly great one either. Vander Linden managed to corral the ball to the right of the mound and toss to first base a step ahead of Harper.

This is what everyone was waiting for? The game's best power-hitting prospect trying to beat out a bunt?

"Just a bunt," Harper said later, downplaying the whole thing. "I bunted a couple times this year. Just trying to work on things in spring training."

Perhaps it's the surest sign yet of Harper's new-found maturity. He could've swung for the fences, tried to hit the ball a country mile and give everyone more reason to clamor for the Nationals to put him on the Opening Day roster.

Instead, he bunted.

"No big deal," manager Davey Johnson said following the Nationals' 3-0 exhibition victory over the Hoyas. "He was just trying to get something going there."

Harper's failed bunt attempt proved the highlight of an otherwise uneventful spring debut for the rookie outfielder. Given a chance to start in right field and bat third, he finished 0-for-2 with a walk. That free pass came on four straight balls from Hoyas starter Will Harris in the first inning. Harper also lofted a fly ball to right off reliever Tommy Isaacs in the fifth, just getting under the pitch a bit but falling victim to a 10-mph wind blowing in from right field.

"It would probably have gone out on a normal day," Johnson said.

"Uh, sure. Absolutely," Harper said with a laugh when told of his manager's claim. "I got it pretty good. I didn't get it as good as I could. But that wind howls a little bit [from] right."

In truth, this latest "debut" for Harper wasn't all that momentous. Yes, it represented the first time he got to start a spring training game. But it also came against a team of Georgetown players that under normal circumstances would be contemporaries of Harper (who should be a college freshman right now).

Harper's bigger test comes tomorrow, when he is scheduled to again start in right field (batting sixth this time) against the Astros in Kissimmee in both clubs' Grapefruit League opener. On the mound for Houston: Livan Hernandez.

This will be the first of several opportunities Harper gets this spring to face big-league pitchers and state his case for a spot on the Nationals' Opening Day roster. Unlike a year ago, when all 12 of his spring appearances came off the bench, he'll see considerable more playing time.

Along the way, Harper will look to impress the coaching staff not only with his offensive prowess but with his improved defense in right field and improved instincts on the bases.

He took a nice first step in that direction today, racing to his right to snag a sinking liner in the top of the second and later effectively cutting off a base hit to his left and making a nice throw back to the infield to hold the batter to a single.

Harper also showed his keen eye at the plate in the first inning when with a man in scoring position he took four straight balls, refusing to expand his strike zone in search of an RBI.

"I think that's the biggest thing right now, try to see as many pitches as I can and not chase," he said. "Get my walks up and strikeouts down. I felt good up there. He didn't give me a pitch I could drive."

By the sixth inning, Harper's day was done. Minor-leaguer Michael Taylor took his spot in right and Harper ran through his conditioning drills on the warning track.

Unlike the veterans on the roster who are free to leave early, Harper stuck around through the end of the game. He showered and changed, doffed a camouflage Duke cap as he took questions from reporters and then made plans to return tomorrow morning for the trip to Kissimmee and the next step of his spring-training quest to make the Opening Day roster at 19.

To hear him say it, this was no more important event than the previous day or the next day. It was just another day at the ballpark, Harper's favorite place in the world.

"I was really excited today," he said. "I was really excited to get out there on the field and get into the swing of things. And I'm going to be excited tomorrow and the next day. Every game I play I get real excited. Running out to center field, I got chills really bad. I think that's how things happen with me."

33 comments:

Section 222 said...

I'm really glad that Harper will face Livo tomorrow. I hope he gets to see the Bugs Bunny curveball. Not sure what I hope happens after that though.

Anonymous said...

and you fon't use that high a pick on a reliever unless you've just gotten strikeout Jesus.

Uh Steady dude? Wrong again pal. See Storen, Drew a first round pick.
Josh Smoker left-handed reliever and first round pick dude. Sheesh!
You might consider doing some research first? Just a suggestion.

Meyer is still growing according to reports and height is an issue when it comes to control. Not every pitcher is able to master it. The Big Unit is one example it took him quite a number of years to finally become master of it.

Meyer may also end up in the bullpen its still TBD.

Anonymous said...

What speeds were the Hoya pitchers tossing at? Is it possible (likely?) Harper saw a faster fastball today than he'll see from Livo tomorrow?

Oldguy said...

Harper's performance strikes me as showing a more mature attitude. Can you imagine him doing that a year ago?

baseballswami said...

So - what does everyone think of the new "Natitude" campaign?

Steady Eddie said...

Anon @ 4:24 -- and you might work on your reading comprehension or your knowledge of the Nats a bit: unless you've just gotten strikeout Jesus was a reference to the fact that Strasburg was picked 10 slots before Storen in the 2009 draft.

A real Nats fan would know who "strikeout Jesus" was, too, at least in that context.

Enough already -- time for a beer. Trust an anon to be tiresome, and show himself as not worth the conversation.

Oldguy said...

Team chemistry is a make-or-break component that the statisticians can't measure. Whatever they call it, a positive attitude is good.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

Oh, Eddie. If only it were that easy.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

baseballswami said...
So - what does everyone think of the new "Natitude" campaign?

Meh. They have focused, rightly, on building up the baseball side. As Langston Hughes once wrote, "Gotta neglect something, so what would you do?"

natsfan1a said...

swami, I kinda like the campaign. I'm also liking Harper's Natitude. :-)

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

But it won't matter much, I think. The team on the field will make or break it. This is going to be a much better year to watch the Nats than any since 2005, easy.

natsfan1a said...

We were typing at the same time, sec3. Agreed re. the team on the field, and the much better forecast.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

Of course, the catchphrase is just one small part of the campaign, so I guess I shouldn't be so hasty.

natsfan1a said...

For sure, the t-shirts could make or break it. :-)

sjm308 said...

I am starting my campaign for R. Martin. I followed him last year and he has impressed me at each stop. I realize we have absolutely NO ROOM in our bullpen but he seems to have what it takes. I am hoping he will be the closer in Syracuse but I will have to check in at Nats Prospects and see what they think as well. We must like him because I think he was picked for the Arizona League. Great story if someone from a Mexican Beer League can jump up to make the Major Leagues.

Undefeated - Unscored on

Go Nats!!

Anonymous said...

A real Nats fan would know who "strikeout Jesus" was, too, at least in that context.

Enough already -- time for a beer. Trust an anon to be tiresome, and show himself as not worth the conversation.


And Trust and anon with a handle like Steady Eddie not to know thing one about pitching or about the prospects he is touting. Nor really, anything at all about the Nats minor league system which I've been following for a number of years.

Trying to quell ignorance in newbies can be very tiresome IMHO.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Eddie. If only it were that easy.

Oh yeah, sec3 kind of like proclaiming Michael Morse a lousy AAAA shortstop which and many others here did? Dude, get over yourself.
Morse is now featured in their new commercial.

LIke Sgt. Schultz you know nothing.

Anonymous said...

I am starting my campaign for R. Martin. I followed him last year and he has impressed me at each stop. I realize we have absolutely NO ROOM in our bullpen but he seems to have what it takes.

I wouldn't go that far ... a couple of propitious trades are still required to put this team on pace for division titles. Some of what they need could seemingly come from the minors. But Rizzo prefers proven major league to potential. So ...

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

See, Eddie, I told you it wouldn't be easy. Now we'll have to scroll past half the blog for a week.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

But I'll join you in that beer. Duffy's?

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

FOR that beer. Just to be clear.

Anonymous said...

See, Eddie, I told you it wouldn't be easy. Now we'll have to scroll past half the blog for a week.

Gee, old coot Mr. Sec3 Wilson from San Francisco NOT DC? Can I play in your back yard Martha said it was okay?

- signed Dennis.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

But while we're on the subject of graphic brand identity, may I first just say, "What, no eye-black?"

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

I did like his modesty in not pointing out that it was the wind, "howling" in from right, that held his drag bunt in the park. Long gone on most days.

DWS said...

I wish I could tell the future. Would have made a fortune on the Cards. Anon (Dennis) useful aka as thoughtful posts are greatly appreciated.
Do you have one?

Sorry if I missed it.

Anonymous said...

as thoughtful posts are greatly appreciated.

I've made many more than most including sec3 ... and backed many up with some reasonably solid mathematics instead of bluster ... as I did when I originally touted Michael Morse well before you probably graced the scene Mr. DWS.

DWS said...

Dennis,
Following this team through Jarry Park, Coco, Rusty, Boots, Bill Stoneman(two no hitters), Steve Rogers etc.
Now following the Nats. Your point?
I've seen Larry Walker, Andre Dawson, and Gary Carter play. Ellis Valentine, Dawson, Cromartie on the cover of the Sporting News.

Thanks again for your knowledgeable input.

public service announcement said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_RUa1gm_oE

DWS said...

Thanks for the wake-up public service.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 6:03pm - that wasn't you that originally touted Michael Morse - it was me, and everyone knows it.

Anonymous said...

Wait a sec - it was I that originally saw Morse in the hospital nursery and I said right then and there, at 2 hours old " that kid is a beast and I bet he'll hit 30 Hr and bat .300 and probably play in Washington some 25 years from now when they get a team."

sheesh, some anons take all the credit

Anon an' on an' on to the last syllable of recorded time said...

OK, you've won me over, I'll settle on an identifiable pseudonym from now on, and when I don't use this, you'll know it's not me, and should feel free--encouraged, in fact--to just ignore the post. I insist.

Anonymous said...

Worried that harper is a knucklehead at this point (not shocking at 19). I get the sense many in the media as well as fans are overlooking/minimizing some of what's he's said/done in the not too distant past. In the long run, Nats may well be better off if he struggles a bit and spends more time in the minors. Media keeps referring favorably to Davey pushing for Gooden to be in the majors for the Mets at 19. Looked good for a while, but not so good in the long run. If Harper lands with the nats this year, hopefully what seems to be a strong clubhouse character will keep him in line.

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