Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bryce Harper makes his debut at Nationals Park this evening.
This is only the third time Harper has ever been to Washington. He came here after signing in Aug. 2010. He came here for the team's FanFest in March 2011. Now he's here for a bit longer, maybe for the long-term. "It's awesome," he said of his first impressions of D.C. "I don't think you could play in a better city. Everything happens here every single day. It's just going to be a great place to play."
There is, of course, an important game to be played tonight. The Nationals are mired in their first four-game losing streak of the season, and they're about to open a tough homestand against the Diamondbacks and Phillies. They can only hope their bats show up tonight against Arizona right-hander Trevor Cahill, and that Jordan Zimmermann is rewarded with some run support.
Plenty of updates to come, so please check back...
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS at WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: WJFK (106.7 FM), WFED (1500 AM), XM 185
Weather: Partly cloudy, 81 degrees, Wind 8 mph out to RF
SS Ian Desmond
3B Steve Lombardozzi
CF Rick Ankiel
1B Adam LaRoche
RF Jayson Werth
2B Danny Espinosa
LF Bryce Harper
C Wilson Ramos
RHP Jordan Zimmermann
CF Gerardo Parra
2B Aaron Hill
RF Justin Upton
LF Jason Kubel
C Miguel Montero
1B Paul Goldschmidt
3B Cody Ransom
SS John McDonald
RHP Trevor Cahill
HP Jeff Nelson, 1B Bill Welke, 2B Tim Tschida (cc), 3B Chris Guccione
6:30 p.m. -- In non-Harper news: Here's the update on Ryan Zimmerman (who took groundballs today) and Brad Lidge (who will miss one month following surgery to repair a sports hernia).
6:36 p.m. -- Now, the pregame Bryce buzz ... As he did at Dodger Stadium over the weekend, and really as he does everywhere he plays, the kid put on a serious display of power during batting practice. He launched several balls into the second deck down the right-field line and in right-center. He also sent a couple of balls way up into the Red Porch area in left-center. Honestly, I've seen very few RIGHT-handed hitters put balls into that area, let alone a left-handed hitter like Harper. ... As for Harper's impromptu softball game on the National Mall yesterday: "I was just walking around a little bit, checking out all the stuff. I hadn't seen the Lincoln Memorial before, so I wanted to go over over there and check that out. I was just walking through, and they asked me if I'd take a few hacks. I was like, 'Nah, I don't know about that.' They were like, 'C'mon.' So I said no problem. I just hung out a little bit and talked to the fans."
6:37 p.m. -- As for the question of how long Harper will remain in the big leagues, Davey Johnson had this response: "I don't look that far down the road. He belongs here right now. He fits. He gives us a little more left-handed presence in the lineup, which we've been looking for. How things progress each day, in this game things can change. The only things that I've been thinking about really is how long I hit him seventh. If he keeps having quality at-bats, I might move [others] down. Even when he hits a groundball to shortstop, he dang near beat the ball out. That's just old-school. He's 100 percent committed to everything he's got."
7:06 p.m. -- We're underway with a strike from Jordan Zimmermann to Gerardo Parra. Nice ovation for Bryce Harper as he took his position in left field, especially from the fans out in the bleachers. He pointed at them to say hello and thanks.
7:11 p.m. -- A real quick, 1-2-3 top of the first for Zimmermann, ending with a nice strikeout of Justin Upton looking at a breaking ball.
7:18 p.m. -- Four Nationals batters made Trevor Cahill throw nine total pitches in the bottom of the first. That's not very many. Ian Desmond once again hacked at the game's first pitch ... and grounded out to third. Desmond has now put the first pitch into play 19 times in 99 plate appearances this season, easily the most for any count. Scoreless after one.
7:27 p.m. -- Nice job by Zimmermann to escape a jam in the top of the second. He had runners on the corners with one out but struck out Cody Ransom on an 87 mph slider, then got John McDonald to lineout to right to end the inning. Two scoreless innings for Zimmermann, though he's already thrown 33 pitches.
7:37 p.m. -- So much for something magical in Harper's first career at-bat at Nationals Park. He struck out taking a mighty hack at an 81-mph changeup. Cahill offered up plenty of offspeed stuff to the kid, only one 88-mph fastball (which Harper was way out in front of). The crowd still gave him a standing ovation both as he walked to the plate and as he walked back to the dugout. Pretty cool. Meanwhile, Cahill also struck out Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos, stranding Jayson Werth (who walked and advanced on a balk) on second base. 0-0 through two here.
7:56 p.m. -- Zimmermann and Cahill are both just cruising along here. Cahill has retired six in a row (four by swinging strikeout). Zimmermann, meanwhile, has set down eight in a row. We go to the bottom of the fourth in a scoreless game.
8:06 p.m. -- Not much happening at the plate so far tonight. (I know, you're really surprised.) Cahill, by the way, entered tonight with 11 swinging strikeouts in his first four starts. He struck out five Nats in a span of seven batters, all of them swinging. 0-0 heading to the fifth.
8:15 p.m. -- We know Harper's got a great arm, but not quite great enough to attempt to gun down Paul Goldschmidt at the plate on John McDonald's RBI single to left in the top of the fifth. Harper did, however, nearly peg McDonald straying too far off first base. If Adam LaRoche had held his position, they probably would've nailed him. Instead, the D'backs score an unearned run (via Desmond's low throw on a tough grounder to the hole) and take a 1-0 lead.
8:22 p.m. -- Real solid contact from Harper in his second at-bat of the night. He smoked a grounder up the middle to lead off the bottom of the fifth for what looked like a sure single. Unfortunately, McDonald was positioned perfectly, so it turned into a routine 6-3 groundout. So for the fifth time in seven games, the Nationals are scoreless into the sixth inning.
8:32 p.m. -- Hoo-boy, Miguel Montero's RBI double in the sixth gives the D'backs a 2-0 lead. Which against this Nats lineup might well be insurmountable.
8:39 p.m. -- Can't ask for a much better opportunity to get off the schneid than this: Back-to-back singles by Desmond and Lombardozzi to open the bottom of the sixth. Except the Nats found a way to waste it. Ankiel grounds into a 4-6-3 double play, and then LaRoche grounds into a 4-3 out to end the inning. It's still 2-0, and the Nats haven't scored in their last 16 innings.
8:47 p.m. -- Tonight's official paid attendance: 22,675.
8:56 p.m. -- Well, it's now 4-0 as Zimmermann gets the hook with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh. In came Ryan Mattheus trying to pitch out of that mess, but he wound up plunking Aaron Hill in the back to force in a run. The second run scored on Upton's sac fly to left ... which was THISCLOSE to being an out after Harper fired a 300-foot strike to the plate. Just a missile, and it even had the crowd giving him a standing ovation. Seriously, we need to get Harper and Ankiel into a throw-off. Put a 2-foot target at the plate, start them each at 300 feet and keep backing them up until someone misses.
9:11 p.m. -- The D'backs nearly tacked on some more in the eighth, but Mattheus did a nice job to get out of a bases-loaded jam. It remains 4-0, and the Nats (who haven't scored since Ramos' RBI single in the ninth inning Saturday night in L.A.) are down to their final six outs.
9:20 p.m. -- How do you like that? The Nationals have scored a run. Yes, they've scored a run. Roger Bernadina doubles off the bench in the bottom of the eighth, then scores on Desmond's single up the middle. It's 4-1 now.
9:26 p.m. -- And nothing else happening in that potential rally. We go to the ninth as Ryan Perry enters to make his Nationals debut.
9:37 p.m. -- Another brilliant outfield throw, this time by Ankiel, but the D'backs still score another run. It's 5-1 as we head to the bottom of the ninth. It'll be LaRoche, Werth and Espinosa due up, with Harper hoping somebody gets on base to give him another shot.
9:44 p.m. -- It's over. Final score: Diamondbacks 5, Nationals 1 as Harper is left standing in the on-deck circle. The Nats have now lost five in a row, though if the score in Atlanta holds up, they'll still incredibly be alone in first place for another day.