Harper Means Hustle and the Giant Combo Size
Bryce Harper is only a few days into his major league career. It is like a movie and the credits are still playing over the first few frames as we are introduced to the action. And maybe it is too early for the critics to assess what they are seeing, but there can be little doubt after the early heart-pounding action that there will be more where that came from.
Yes it is too early for pronouncements on Harper’s ability to handle major league pitching, too early to say what a long 1-for 15 slump will do to his demeanor. Will he still be able to handle the adversity and when some pitcher plunks him for good measure, will he still react with the kind of class that he showed last night?
We cannot answer those questions yet, but it is not too early to be impressed with his approach to the game and anyone who was watching the ESPN’s Sunday Game of the Week had to be somewhat in awe of the first glimpses of what this young man can do.
Cole Hamels drilled Harper in the back in his first at bat and the brash kid with a history of bat attitude took his base and never even looked hard at Hamels. It was a “message” pitch not so much from Hamels as from Charlie Manuel and the Philly organization to the Washington organization, as if to say, here’s what we think of your “Boy Wonder.”
Harper took it and then when Jayson Werth singled sharply into the outfield he took third on pure hustle and speed. When Hamels somewhat smugly threw to first to keep Werth close–not even looking at Harper–the kid stole home and it was not really even close.
Harper sent his own message, one of a whole different sort. In baseball, it is difficult to imagine a better way to say, “see you and raise you” than what Harper did. Later in the game Harper took second on a bloop single that was even more of a hustle play. It wasn’t a two-run homer; it did not win the game for a Nationals offense that was completely baffled by Hamels, but it was not a bad rejoinder to Charlie Manuel from “the kid.”
And that seems to be what we will get from Bryce Harper this time around. He is up against major league pitching for the first time and he can clearly hit the fast ball when it is thrown over the plate and not into the middle of his back. He may need to smooth out his swing and adjust to the off-speed stuff that he will see increasingly, but it ain’t bad for first time round.
Philadelphia walked Harper four times in three games and the young 19-year old went 2-for-3 against Hamels. So, his command of the plate is impressive given how few professional at bats he has had since signing with Washington late in 2010.
So the early scouting reports will emphasize his throwing arm that already freezes runners in place on routine fly balls. And pitchers will not take him for granted when he gets on base. But there is a lot left to see, a lot left to take in.
Harper has struggled in his exposure to advanced levels of play. When he began his career in Hagerstown last season, he began slowly. He only warmed up after the first three weeks of the season and then he went on a tear, hitting .318 with 14 homers in the first half of the season before being promoted to Harrisburg. His slash line for the year was .297/.392/.501, sound but not eye-popping.
What diminished the numbers were the slow weeks in Harrisburg and the adjustments to his first exposure to the long grind of a professional season. Improving on those numbers at the major league level, adjusting to better pitching and the grind of the season are a tall order.
But that is what makes this game such a wonder. It is clear after Bryce Harper’s first few weeks in the majors that he has a unique gift as an athlete. The hype had its base in reality.
What has impressed me more than any singular thing about the young man is that he is wearing a Washington uniform and like other Nationals fans, I am going to have a seat right down front where I can take in all of the action. Because this show looks like it is going to have lots of action, some great chase scenes, explosive fire works for the duration. I’m glad I got the giant combo cause I’m going to need it for this one.