Tag: Bryce Harper

Scott Miller’s Starting 9: Minus Fanfare, Conforto Becoming Star Mets Need

Got your graduation gifts all purchased? That time of year again….


1. Big Apples, Monuments and The Millennial Men

They are both 23, and each will play an enormous role as the summer heats up and the Washington Nationals and New York Mets duel in the National League East.

One is as flamboyant as a pink flamingo in the front yard, as ostentatious as a Porsche in the driveway. Yeah, you know all about Bryce Harper, who came in as one of the hottest prospects in the history of Major League Baseball and put his stamp on the NL MVP award last summer.

The other? As nondescript as a welcome mat at the front door, as plain Jane as a sprinkler watering the lawn. But know this: Despite the fact that his batting average dipped during the month of May, the Mets have gone 22-12 in 34 games in which Michael Conforto has batted either third or fourth in the lineup.

Yeah, Conforto. Oregon State kid. First-round pick in 2014. The Mets got him 10th overall. Spotted Harper a huge head start into the majors: Bryce debuted at 19, of course, in 2012. Conforto didn’t land in New York until last summer, though he zoomed all the way up from Class A St. Lucie in just four months.

Then, Conforto did something Harper still hasn’t done: stepped to the plate in a World Series game.

In fact, Conforto started all five games of the Mets’ Fall Classic loss to Kansas City last October.

Yes, they both are 23, and though the natural comparison/rival for Harper has always been the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout, Conforto is Harper’s intradivisional peer, and won’t it be a blast watching these guys jockey for position in what might become the most thrilling race in baseball this summer?

The three hole is where Mets manager Terry Collins and his staff envisioned Conforto would end up all along in the Mets lineup, though when they moved him there for good on April 15 at Cleveland, with Yoenis Cespedes hitting behind him, nobody knew then how it would solidify things.

“We talked about it in spring training,” Collins tells B/R. “We thought down the road, this guy’s going to be a three-hole hitter. Then when we looked at it early in the year we thought, ‘You know what? This guy is swinging the bat good right now, let’s put him in that spot and see how it goes.’

“And it’s paid off.”

Funny how “down the road” during spring training can suddenly translate into two or three weeks.

“It might have even been next year,” Collins says. “We just thought, this kid’s a good hitter and he’s going to produce runs. And we just said one of these days he’s going to be a three-hole hitter.

“We didn’t know if it was going to be this year, next year or two years from now. I just thought he’s going to be a guy with a high ceiling offensively, so we just took a shot.”

Despite hitting .169/.242/.349 in the month of May, Conforto, who swings lefty, is still hitting .261/.339/.503 overall with eight homers and 24 RBI.

Of Conforto’s 17 career home runs, 10 have either given the Mets the lead or tied the game (eight go-ahead, two game-tying). And for those of you who are Sabermetrically inclined, through Monday, Conforto had a well-hit average of .275 against right-handers, fourth-highest in the majors.

“He has the ability to drive the ball to all fields; he has power. And the good thing with this team is…it wasn’t like, ‘Isn’t so-and-so supposed to hit there?'” Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson says.

As Granderson notes, that’s the “cool thing” about the Mets: They have the ability to move guys around, which helps lessen the pressure on any one individual.

Tell Harper about it. Nobody in the game is under more pressure than him each night, given who he is and what he’s capable of. When he went 11 consecutive games in May without homering, let’s just say it was the loudest silent streak anybody has had in the majors this season.   

During that streak, from May 14-26, Harper was 4-for-33 with 11 walks. Overall this season, he’s still not exactly tearing it up, hitting .242/.415/.535 with 13 homers and 34 RBI.

Conforto is no Harper. Though he is capable of carrying the Mets on his back for a couple of games, he’s certainly not going to do so all summer. Nor is he expected to. But with Cespedes hitting behind him, he is one of New York’s keys, especially with David Wright facing another trip to the disabled list (herniated disk in his neck) and Matt Harvey’s struggles (through Monday, at least). Cespedes and Neil Walker can’t do it all themselves.

Conforto hit third in the lineup throughout high school, college and the minor leagues.

“It’s been my spot,” he says. “It’s where I want to be. But I felt it was something I needed to earn. I wasn’t going to have it right away.

“I still have to earn it.”

Part of that is hitting left-handers better: Against them in 2016, through Tuesday, he was hitting .118/.143/.118. As such, it was no coincidence that Collins gave him a day off Sunday, when the Mets faced Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

After Conforto hit .365/.442/.676 overall in April, rival pitchers spent much of May searching for holes in his swing. What he noticed was a steady diet of breaking balls and sliders, with a few changeups thrown in.

“When I first got there, it was clear I was getting an extra fastball a game, or a pitch that they would have buried in the dirt before, they weren’t,” Conforto says of the move to third from lower in the order.

No small part of that, of course, was that pitchers wanted to take their chances with him rather than with the big bopper hitting next, Cespedes.

So now, for both his sake and that of the Mets, it’s time for Conforto to again start turning some of those sliders and breaking balls around, a lot more frequently than he has of late.

“You’ve always got to be cognizant of what they’re trying to do,” he says.

And if he happens to chat with Harper behind the cage during batting practice one of these days when the Mets and Nationals next meet later this month, the Washington megastar undoubtedly will tell him, “Yes, you do.”


2. Messing With the Strike Zone

Look out, the MLB Competition Committee is at it again, and the resulting changes could mean a remapped strike zone and the extinction of the good old-fashioned four-pitch intentional walk.

The first idea is questionable at best.

The second idea stinks.

Where the strike zone is concerned, the competition committee agreed on a motion to raise the bottom part of the strike zone from below the knees to above the knees. Given that almost 30 percent of at-bats are ending in a strikeout or walk this season (and that’s not even when Kershaw is pitching; see next item), it is worth discussing ways to lessen the dead time in games and put more balls in play.

The problem is beware the laws of unintended consequences: If the strike zone is raised, many players and managers think all it will do is turn some of the strikeouts into walks, not help hitters put more balls in play.

Why? Because it is far easier for a hitter to drop the bat head down on a 95 mph fastball than it is for him to get around on a higher fastball. So, in theory, this change could cause hitters to stop attempting to swing at the low fastball, figuring it will be called a ball.

So now you may not be doing anything but ladling more walks into games.

Nothing will change until approved by the playing rules committee. So while we continue to mull the strike zone, here’s hoping that committee quickly shoots down the idea of abolishing the four-pitch intentional walk.

Look, pace of game is an issue, no question, with games this season averaging just over three hours, per Baseball Prospectus. But a manager holding up four fingers instead of a pitcher lobbing four balls? Saves maybe 20 seconds, tops.

And it completely eliminates a part of the game that requires execution. There are times when a pitcher tosses a wild pitch…or leaves an intentional ball too close to the plate and the hitter reaches out and swats it.

Eliminate the four-pitch intentional walk, and you’ll deprive people of entertaining (and potentially game-changing) moments like this:


3. Clayton Kershaw’s Dead Time

That 30 percent of at-bats in today’s game ending without the hitter putting the ball in play?

That’s low when Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw pitches.

When he’s on the mound, a whopping 36 percent of at-bats end without the ball being put into play.

Following his last start, Sunday night against the Mets, Kershaw entered this week with the astounding strikeout-to-walk ratio of 21-1. He had 105 whiffs against just five walks. He also had hit one of his 309 batters faced.


4. The Life and Times of Yankees Pitching

The New York Yankees optioned young prospect Luis Severino to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Monday, another significant move for a club stuck carefully juggling starting pitchers as if they were knives.

Severino was viewed as a potential savior this spring after going 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 11 stretch-run starts last summer. This year, he is 0-6 with a 7.46 ERA.

With him gone, all eyes turn to the enigmatic Michael Pineda, who next starts Thursday in Detroit. Into that start in the Motor City, among qualifiers, Pineda ranks last (52nd) in the AL in ERA (6.92) and second-to-last (51st) in opponents’ batting average (.322).

But just when things look bleak for the Bronx Bombers, check this out from Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, started by Nathan Eovaldi and then turned over to bullpen stars Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, as Inside Edge noted:

That’s some serious cheese right there. Wow.


5. Cheating With the Dodgers Outfielders

More than once this season, alert fans have posted brief videos or photos on Twitter showing a Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder dipping into his pocket and checking what looks like a cell phone:

What gives? Have we finally reached the point where even players cannot go half an inning without checking for messages?

Are there pressing dinner reservations? Social arrangements for tonight that cannot wait until after the game? What?

Well, none of the above, it turns out. Rather, Dodgers outfielders now take their positions with cheat sheets for their intricate shifting patterns. There is so much information to remember for each hitter that sometimes a guy like Howie Kendrick needs to fish some of that information out of his pocket to see where to station himself because he can’t remember it.

In fact, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Mets complained to MLB officials last Friday after learning that Los Angeles intended to mark prearranged defensive positions on the CitiField grass. The Dodgers now use a laser rangefinder before games to determine certain fielding positions. Were they to use it in-game, it would be a violation of rules.

Stay tuned.


6. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Memorial Day: Finally, summer (unofficially) begins. Put those cheeseburgers on the grill and cue up some Jimmy Buffett.

2. Matt Harvey: Not only did he fire seven shutout innings against the Chicago White Sox on Monday, he even spoke with reporters afterward. Maybe he’s not washed up, after all.

3. Indianapolis 500: Other than a hand-scooped milkshake, the best reason to drink milk.

4. Golden State Warriors: Did you see those pregame aerial shots of the Oakland Athletics’ home field? You couldn’t even see any leaking sewage. That’s how impressive Stephen Curry is.

5. Julio Urias: Dodgers wunderkind debuts at age 19 on Friday but is dispatched back to Triple-A Oklahoma City in time for Saturday’s Thunder-Warriors Game 6. I know they say teenagers have short attention spans, but, man, that was quick.


7. Bat Flip This

Et tu, Mickey Mantle? Wonder how Goose Gossage would frame this!


8. Chatter

• The Miami Marlins are thrilled with some of the things Barry Bonds is doing as hitting coach, most notably in reaching outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Things between the Marlins and Ozuna haven’t always been copacetic, but that’s changed this summer. Ozuna’s on-base streak reached 36 consecutive games, longest in the majors this season, before finally ending Monday. “It meant a lot because it meant that I maintained my swing and showed a lot of patience at the plate,” Ozuna, 25, told Miami reporters (via MLB.com). “Now it’s a matter of maintaining that and moving forward.”

Look out for the Pittsburgh Pirates: They’ve won 11 of 16 to shave the deficit between them and the first-place Chicago Cubs from a season-high nine games on May 14 to 6.5 through Tuesday’s games. We knew Pittsburgh had one of the game’s best outfields in Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, and the trio is hot: Pittsburgh outfielders lead the majors in batting average (.301) and extra-base hits (72) and rank second in on-base percentage (.371), slugging percentage (.500) and OPS (.871).

Good move by the New York Mets to acquire James Loney, who was languishing in El Paso, San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate. He’s a perfect place-holder for the injured Lucas Duda. Loney, 32, was hitting .342 with a .373 on-base percentage. A scout who saw him last week praised his offensive work and noted that his defense was Gold Glove-caliber.

No question, sources tell Bleacher Report, the San Diego Padres absolutely would love to trade right-hander James Shields and unload a contract that pays him $21 million this year, $21 million in 2017 and another $21 million in 2018 with a $16 million club option or a $2 million buyout in 2019. Shields has an opt-out option after this season, which could discourage potential trade partners.

The Chicago White Sox are among the teams talking Shields with San Diego, sources say. The Sox could use an upgrade in their rotation over Mat Latos, who started 4-0 with a 0.74 ERA but is 2-1 with a 7.21 ERA since, and Miguel Gonzalez.

Of course, after their weekend series with Kansas City, the White Sox look like they could use some bullpen reinforcements, too. They blew a 7-1 ninth-inning lead on Saturday, one of three staggering bullpen losses, and their relievers combined to surrender 17 runs, 15 hits and eight walks over 6.1 innings to Kansas City in the three days. Ouch. And that was only the start of a 10-game trip to KC, New York (Mets) and Detroit.

One of the issues with Tim Lincecum, says a scout who was at his showcase in Scottsdale, Arizona, a couple of weeks ago, is that his stride toward the plate has shortened significantly. That is likely a result of his hip procedure, which is a contributing factor as to why his fastball no longer sizzles. There was little interest in Lincecum after the showcase, except from the injury-depleted Los Angeles Angels of Our Rotation Is Broken. Lincecum is next scheduled to start for Triple-A Salt Lake at Tacoma on Thursday and, if all goes well, is expected to join the Angels in 10 or so days.

Great news, Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman confirming that he will return to Cincinnati’s booth in 2017.

Here’s why it is imperative the Cleveland Indians get their pitching sorted out. Through Tuesday, Cleveland had played 50 games—tied for fewest in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles, Cubs and Rays—yet scored 238 runs, fourth-most in the American League. There’s an opportunity here…if manager Terry Francona can get all the pieces moving in the same direction.

Speaking of the Indians, it still could not be more fitting that a slugging designated hitter named Carlos Santana plays in the city that houses the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum.

Thursday’s Arizona-Houston match features two of the most disappointing starting pitchers in the land: the Diamondbacks’ Zack Greinke, whose 4.71 ERA ranks 78th in the majors (you sure couldn’t tell by that $206 million contract) against the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel, whose 5.58 ERA ranks 97th (nowhere near last season’s Cy Young form).


9. Andrew Miller IS Going to Throw the Slider

The New York Yankees’ ace setup man, into last weekend, per Inside Edge:


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

Paul Simon’s new record, Stranger to Stranger, drops June 3, and the man who gave us the immortal line “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you” goes back to baseball again with a song called “Cool Papa Bell.” Hall of Famer Satchel Paige once said, in one of the greatest quips in the history of baseball, that Bell was so fast that he could click off the light and jump in bed and be under the covers before the room got dark.

“Have you all heard the news?

“‘Heaven finally found!’

“OK, it’s six trillion light-years away

“But we’re all gonna get there someday

“Yes, we’re all gonna get there one day

“But, but not you!

“You stay and explain the suffering

“And the pain you caused

“The thrill you feel when evil dreams come true

“Check out my tattoo!

“It says ‘wall-to-wall fun’

“Does everyone know everyone

“Mr. wall-to-wall fun

“We got the well, well, well

“And Cool Papa Bell

“The fastest man on Earth did dwell as

“Cool Papa Bell”

— Paul Simon, “Cool Papa Bell”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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What’s Wrong with Bryce Harper After Shocking Extended Slump?

Remember when Bryce Harper was Bryce Harper?

Oh, sure. The Washington Nationals‘ star right fielder has occasionally looked like himself here and there in recent weeks. And before he took a wayward fastball to his right knee on Memorial Day, Harper had been showing signs of life.

But from a wider perspective, what Harper’s been going through still looks like an extended slump. And since it’s been going on for more than a month, it’s deserving of investigative treatment.

Let’s begin on April 24, a day in which Harper’s follow-up to his unanimous National League MVP season in 2015 peaked with a pinch-hit, game-tying home run against the Minnesota Twins:

That was Harper’s ninth home run in only 18 games, and it raised his batting line for 2016 to .323/.405/.855.

Even better, Harper’s batting line over the last calendar year at that point was .336/.458/.688 with 47 home runs. At the least, he was established as baseball’s most feared hitter. At the most, he had surpassed Mike Trout as baseball’s best player, period.

Thus entered the slump. Harper has managed a line of just .189/.420/.326 ever since. This has happened over 33 games, which is not a small sample size. Hence, the valid usage of the word “slump.”

Granted, it’s not worth nothing that the 23-year-old has kept his on-base percentage as high as the sky, but this is a double-edged sword, as that OBP wouldn’t exist without the Barry Bonds treatment.

A Google search will reveal how many have already noticed pitchers are refusing to pitch to Harper like they once refused to pitch to Bonds. The numbers don’t throw water on the idea either. Harper’s rate of pitches in the strike zone has fallen like so:

Relative to the rest of his career, Harper has never seen anything like this. Few hitters have, in fact. A zone rate that small is Pablo Sandoval and Josh Hamilton territory.

It’s to Harper’s credit that he hasn’t given in by swinging as wildly as those two do (or used to do, anyway). His overall swing percentage has dropped from 48.7 to 38.7, and his chase percentage has dropped from 28.4 to 26.9. As a direct result, his walk rate has gone from 13.5 percent to 27.5 percent.

But though patience is a good thing to have, it takes a lot more to make a hitter. Just ask Dusty Baker.

“I really admire Bryce for the patience and stuff that he’s shown,” the Nationals skipper recently told Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports. “But a hitter wants to hit, know what I mean? And he’s gotten a few pitches to hit. Not as many as he had in the past. But he’s had a few pitches to hit, where he’s pulled them foul, or fouled them back.”

Hitters do indeed want to hit. And though he may be getting the same treatment as Bonds, Harper is failing where the former San Francisco Giants super-duper-star succeeded.

By comparing how they’ve swung and made contact with pitches in the strike zone, we can see Harper has been hitting what he’s been given as well as neither Bonds in his heyday nor even his own old self:

Note: Plate-discipline data for Bonds’ 2001 season is not available.

Bonds didn’t jump at everything he saw in the zone, but he wasn’t passive and was good at making contact when he pounced. Harper, on the other hand, is suddenly way more passive in the zone and hasn’t been as good at making contact when he has attacked.

It doesn’t help that, as FanGraphsJeff Sullivan pointed out in early May, pitchers have taken to exclusively and precisely working Harper on the low-and-outside corner of the zone. But good pitches to hit have been there for him, and even the man himself can admit he’s failed to take advantage.

“You have to understand you may only get one or two [good] pitches a game,” Harper told Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post in late May. “If you don’t hit them, it’s your fault.”

Because Harper knows what his malfunction is, it’s easy to ask why he can’t overcome it. The easy answer might also be the best answer: He’s letting his frustration get to him.

During his slump, we’ve seen Harper curse out an umpire, break a bat in anger and throw a dugout temper tantrum. He may not be himself behind the scenes either, as Boswell wrote Harper “sometimes has lacked his customary energy and seems less enthusiastic.”

This could be what convinced Baker to give Harper what he called a “mental day off” on May 25, when his only responsibility was to “just concentrate and watch the game.” A few days later, it is fair to wonder if that’s made a difference.

Harper has slammed a couple of home runs in his last five games, after all. One was this titanic blast off St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake:

And the other was this clout to dead center off Adam Wainwright:

Watch closely, and you’ll see Harper destroy a hanging curve that was supposed to be in the dirt in the first video. In the second, he crushed a fastball that was supposed to be off the outside corner but drifted over the plate. Those were two hittable mistakes, and he made them look like hittable mistakes.

That’s good news! And there’s more. Though Harper’s zone rate since his mental health day has stayed low at 35.4 percent, his swing rate has increased to 47.7 percent. His rate of contact within the zone, meanwhile, is sitting at 100 percent.

This sample size is way, way, way too small to conclude that Harper has officially broken out of his slump. It’s also imperfect. Those homers are two of only four hits, and Harper’s increased aggressiveness also comes with less discipline and more whiffs. And though his knee injury supposedly isn’t serious, knee injuries of any kind are not to be trusted.

But if Harper’s recent heroics aren’t a breakout, they’re at least a hint of one. Rather than a question of talent, him snapping out of his pitcher-induced haze has always been a question of taking initiative. That appears to be what he’s doing.

If so, Bryce Harper may soon be Bryce Harper again.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Bryce Harper Injury: Updates on Nationals Star’s Knee and Return

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper left Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies after getting hit in the right knee by a Jeremy Hellickson pitch in the seventh inning. It is currently unclear when he’ll return to the field. 

Continue for updates.

Harper Out vs. Phillies

Wednesday, June 1

Mark Zuckerman of MASN reported Harper will not be in the lineup Wednesday against Philadelphia.

Harper Comments on Injury

Tuesday, May 31

“It hurts,” Harper said, via Zuckerman. “Whenever you get squared up like that, [it was] definitely something that didn’t feel good. I think we’ll evaluate tomorrow and see how it feels.”

Harper’s Timeline to Return Revealed 

Monday, May 30

Harper is considered day-to-day with a right-knee contusion, according to Jamal Collier of MLB.com. 

Nationals Can’t Afford to Lose Harper for Extended Period of Time

The slugger was replaced by Chris Heisey when the Nationals took the field in the bottom of the inning. Harper was 0-for-2 before exiting. Heading into Monday’s contest, he was hitting .245 with 13 home runs and 34 RBI while sporting a .416 OBP.

Harper is coming off his first MVP Award and is also a year removed from his healthiest professional season. He played 153 games in 2015 and set career highs with a .330/.460/.649 slash line, 42 home runs and 99 RBI. His individual success did not translate to team wins, though, as Washington finished a disappointing 83-79 despite having one of baseball’s highest payrolls.  

“Last year’s behind us. I mean, all of last year’s behind us,” Harper told reporters. “We were a losing team. I know we were above in the win column and loss column, but we still lost.”

The Nationals are undoubtedly hoping Harper will be back in the lineup soon. He’s their best player, and the only thing that’s affected his superstar trajectory has been injuries.

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Bryce Harper Suspended 1 Game, Fined for Yelling Curse Word at Umpire

Major League Baseball announced Wednesday it suspended Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper one game for his actions during the Nats‘ 5-4 win over the Detroit Tigers on Monday.

According to MLB‘s announcement, Harper also received an “undisclosed fine.” 

“Have to look at the precedent for the penalty,” Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, said, per MLB Network Radio. “Don’t know any player who hasn’t had a moment with an umpire.”

“Relationship between Harper and umpires is a good one,” Boras added, per MLB Network Radio. “These moments arise, more about how you carry yourself moving forward.”

Home plate umpire Brian Knight ejected Harper during the ninth inning of that game for yelling at him from the dugout after teammate Danny Espinosa was called out on strikes.  

Clint Robinson hit a walk-off, pinch-hit home run during the ensuing at-bat, and Harper appeared to scream an expletive at the ump during the celebration, as seen in this video courtesy of Fox Sports: MLB:

Following the incident, Harper wasn’t concerned about a potential fine, and he wasn’t remorseful for his actions either, per ESPN.com’s Eddie Matz: “I was pretty upset. I think I was right to do that. Let him hear what I have to say, let him hear it again, and so what? Couple choice words. If I do [get fined], I do. I’ll pay it. So I think it deserves to, you know, maybe he’ll get fined, too. So we’ll see.”

The ejection marked the seventh of the 23-year-old superstar’s career, and his subsequent actions continued a trend of his emotions getting the best of him.

Despite that, manager Dusty Baker wasn’t overly concerned after the game, according to Matz“It’s an emotional game. He’s an emotional young man. You certainly don’t like him to get tossed, but every once in a while, you gotta blow off some steam, or else you go crazy. I’m sure it won’t happen again.”

The reigning National League MVP’s outburst came on the heels of a particularly frustrating series against the Chicago Cubs that saw him walk an MLB-record 13 times in four Nats defeats.

Washington was on the verge of another defeat when Harper was tossed from the game, and despite the excitement of getting back on track with a victory, the former No. 1 overall pick was unable to contain himself.


While Harper wasn’t worried about getting fined, his actions hurt his team, as it will be without its best player for one game, which significantly changes the potency of its lineup.

Harper is among the most fiery, competitive players in baseball; however, he won’t do the Nats much good on the bench.

While asking Harper to play with less passion would be a mistake since it is a big reason for his success, Baker would be wise to suggest to him to tone down his interactions with umpires.


Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Dusty Baker Comments on Bryce Harper After Star Apparently Curses at Umpire

Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker is a fan of Bryce Harper. And, apparently, corporal punishment. 

“Will I have to spank him sometimes? Maybe,” Baker said of his star outfielder Tuesday, a day after Harper was ejected from a 5-4 win over the Detroit Tigers, per James Wagner of the Washington Post.

Harper, 23, was thrown out by umpire Brian Knight in the ninth inning after arguing a questionable strike call on Danny Espinosa from the Nationals’ dugout. After Clint Robinson hit a walk-off homer later in the inning to give the Nationals a win, Harper was seen yelling not-so-PG words at Knight. 

“Yeah, absolutely,” Harper said, per Eddie Matz of ESPN.com, admitting the exchange. “I was pretty upset. I think I was right to do that. Let him hear what I have to say, let him hear it again, and so what? Couple choice words. If I do [get fined], I do. I’ll pay it. So I think it deserves to, you know, maybe he’ll get fined, too. So we’ll see.”

Harper previously jawed with Knight over balls and strikes during a fourth-inning strikeout. Going on the field after an ejection is prohibited by MLB rules—even in situations like a walk-off home run. Baker said Harper deserves a fine for violating the rule but wasn’t unhappy with his reigning MVP.

“There are enough emotionless people in the world,” Baker said, per Wagner.

It’s possible Harper was projecting some of his own personal frustrations onto Knight on Monday night. After lighting the world on fire in a nine-homer April, Harper has struggled as teams have pitched him more carefully in May. He’s hitting just .174/.500/.304 with one home run and three runs batted in for the month. The Chicago Cubs gave him a Bondsian welcome over the weekend, walking him 13 times in 19 plate appearances over a four-game sweep.

Even when Harper has been seeing strikes, he hasn’t been the same monster that he was in April. He’s already struck out 13 times for the month, equaling his total for all of April in just 10 days. Harper has only had 12 plate appearances all month that have not ended in a strikeout or walk.

So while Harper’s “choice words” Monday night may have been aimed at an umpire, it’s likely more a product of his frustration boiling over. 


Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter. All stats and splits courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.

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Scott Boras Comments on Bryce Harper’s Future with the Nationals

Agent Scott Boras may not be done directing his clients to stay with the Washington Nationals after securing a seven-year, $175 million extension for starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday, per MLB.com’s Bill Ladson.

Bryce Harper is a scenario where this ownership certainly has the financial wherewithal to do what they want to do,” Boras said of the star outfielder, who is set to be a free agent in 2019, per USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale. “It’s really up to the Lerners what they want to do with [Harper].”

Re-signing Strasburg on its own is big for the Nationals since they secured their No. 2 starter behind Max Scherzer for the long term. What it signifies—a Nationals player eschewing free agency to sign a new deal—might be bigger.

Boras didn’t give any indication Harper would take a hometown discount to stay in the nation’s capital. As long as he stays healthy, he’s likely to get the richest contract in baseball history:

NBC Sports’ Joe Posnanski wrote that the reigning National League MVP could command $500 million. If the Miami Marlins can give Giancarlo Stanton $325 million over 13 years—albeit in a back-loaded deal—then $500 million for Harper isn’t inconceivable.

The Nationals will have to pay a king’s ransom in order to sign Harper beyond his arbitration years, whether he becomes a free agent or not. Avoiding a bidding war could save Washington some money, though, and the team would receive a significant boost should Boras and Harper be willing to negotiate an extension before the end of the 2018 season.

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Bryce Harper Comments on Yelling Apparent Curse Word at Umpire After Ejection

Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper was ejected during the ninth inning of Monday’s 5-4 win over the Detroit Tigers, and the reigning National League MVP showed no regret for his actions afterward. 

Harper was tossed after he and several Nats teammates yelled at home plate umpire Brian Knight for calling Danny Espinosa out on strikes. Clint Robinson hit a walk-off, pinch-hit home run shortly thereafter, and Harper expressed his displeasure by barking at Knight again and apparently cursing.

According to ESPN.com’s Eddie Matz, the 23-year-old outfielder felt as though his reaction to Knight’s decision was warranted: “I was pretty upset. I think I was right to do that. Let him hear what I have to say, let him hear it again, and so what? Couple choice words. If I do [get fined], I do. I’ll pay it. So I think it deserves to, you know, maybe he’ll get fined, too. So we’ll see.”

Nats manager Dusty Baker also commented on the ejection, and although Harper has already been tossed seven times during his young career, the veteran skipper doesn’t believe it will become a serious issue: “It’s an emotional game. He’s an emotional young man. You certainly don’t like him to get tossed, but every once in a while, you gotta blow off some steam or else you go crazy. I’m sure it won’t happen again.”

Harper is among the most feared hitters in baseball, as evidenced by his .330 batting average and 42 home runs en route to being named National League MVP last season.

His 2016 numbers are down a bit to the tune of a .260 average with 10 homers and 27 RBI, but after the Chicago Cubs walked him an MLB-record 13 times in a four-game series last week, it is clear that teams respect what he can do at the plate.

Harper’s emotions have gotten him in trouble with regard to ejections over the course of his career, and while Monday’s incident didn’t cost the team, it could have if Robinson didn’t end the game with a home run.

The Nationals are a far more dangerous team when Harper is on the field and in the No. 3 spot of the lineup, so although his fiery demeanor makes for some interesting moments, the Nats would benefit from a bit more restraint in the future.


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Barry Bonds Comments on Bryce Harper Walking 13 Times in Series vs. Cubs

After Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper set a major league record by drawing 13 walks in last weekend’s four-game series against the Chicago Cubs, all-time MLB walks leader Barry Bonds weighed in on the reigning MVP’s plight. 

Despite the frustration that can come with being pitched around, the first-year Miami Marlins hitting coach urged Harper to avoid doing too much at the plate, according to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald: “He’s going to have to stay disciplined—a lot.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon instructed his pitchers to intentionally walk Harper three times Sunday. He also drew three additional walks and was hit by a pitch in that game, meaning he made seven plate appearances without recording an official at-bat, which also set a new record, per Spencer.

Bonds’ 2,558 career walks and 688 intentional walks are both all-time records by a significant margin, so nobody understands what Harper is going through more so than MLB’s home run king.

Rather than taking issue with the idea of pitching around a dangerous player, Bonds put the onus on Nationals No. 4 hitter Ryan Zimmerman to pick up the slack and make the opposition pay:

They’re playing to win. The same thing happened to me. The guy behind has got to hit, has got to do his job, basically. That’s what it comes down to.


[The strategy backfired] plenty of times. They caught days sometimes when [Jeff] Kent wasn’t hitting. And they caught days when Kent bombed them. It can backfire on you. It’s the price you’re going to pay. They just got Zimmerman on a cold weekend. Doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work all the time. They just got Zimmerman on a bad weekend. We’ve all had those.

Jonah Keri of CBS Sports noted the best solution might be for the Nationals to get someone other than Zimmerman to protect Harper:

The Cubs swept the four-game set with the Nationals, during which Harper went a mere 1-for-4 at the plate.

Major League Baseball is a copycat league, as evidenced by the rise of strategies such as defensive shifting and the close monitoring of pitch counts, and that means Harper could be in for more of the same moving forward.

Bonds still managed to put up monster numbers despite being in a similar predicament, but he was a wily veteran by the time his intentional walk totals started reaching extreme levels in 2002.

Harper is just 23 years of age and likely eager to swing for the fences every time he steps into the batter’s box, but if he takes a page out of Bonds’ book and remains patient, he will put his teammates in position to do plenty of damage over the course of the season.


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Bryce Harper Yells Apparent Curse Word at Umpire After Nationals’ Walk-Off Win

The Washington Nationals won Monday’s game against the Detroit Tigers 5-4 on Clint Robinson’s walk-off home run, but it was superstar Bryce Harper‘s actions during the ensuing celebration that turned heads.

MLB.com provided a video that seemed to show Harper cursing at an umpire as the Nationals mobbed Robinson:

Bill Baer of NBC Sports noted Harper “had apparently been chirping” at home plate umpire Brian Knight since he was called out on strikes in the bottom of the fourth inning. After Danny Espinosa struck out looking in the ninth, Knight ejected Harper from the dugout, per Baer.

Robinson then hit the game-winning homer in the next at-bat (the umpires reviewed the play to make sure a fan didn’t interfere with the ball), prompting the celebration.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported Harper is facing a fine or suspension because ejected players are not allowed to return to the field.

Harper made headlines in March in a story that appeared in ESPN The Magazine (via Eddie Matz of ESPN.com) when he said, “Baseball’s tired. It’s a tired sport because you can’t express yourself. You can’t do what people in other sports do.”

Harper—who was seen sporting a hat that said “Make Baseball Fun Again” after those early-season quotes—certainly expressed himself Monday.

Harper was asked after the game if he thinks he will be fined for those expressions and said, per Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post, “If I do, I do. I’ll pay it. Maybe he’ll get fined too.” 

He also explained his mindset, per Baseball Tonight: “I was pretty upset…I let him hear what I had to say, let him hear it again and you know, so what?”

Following Monday’s game, Harper is hitting .260 with 10 home runs and 27 RBI in the 2016 campaign. That would mark the lowest batting average of his career, if it holds up, but he is also boasting an impressive .434 on-base percentage and 1.054 OPS on the season, per ESPN.com.

His on-base percentage is so high because opposing pitching staffs have treated him with such caution. The Chicago Cubs walked him six times and hit him with a pitch Sunday, which marked the first time a player reached base safely seven times without an official at-bat in one game in 100 years, per ESPN Stats & Info (via Jayson Stark of ESPN).

Harper won the 2015 National League MVP with a .330 batting average, 42 home runs, 99 RBI and a 1.109 OPS.

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Dusty Baker Comments on Potentially Changing Lineup After Bryce Harper’s 6 Walks

Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker doesn’t plan to change his lineup after reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper reached base seven times without recording a single hit on Sunday.   

“I thought about it hard and long, but a few days doesn’t merit you switching it up,” Baker said, per Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. “If he had gotten one hit one of those times, you wouldn’t be asking me this today. Not yet.”

The Chicago Cubs walked Harper 13 times during their four-game series against the Nationals, with six of them coming in Washington’s 4-3 loss Sunday in 13 innings. Harper went 1-for-4 in the series with one RBI.

The Las Vegas native has hit 10 home runs and bats third in the lineup. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is normally the cleanup hitter, but the veteran has batted .236 this year.

Baker was also asked about moving the newly acquired Daniel Murphy to the No. 4 spot. Murphy leads Washington with 45 hits and is batting .395, but having a left-handed bat follow the left-handed Harper could cause issues late in games, according to Baker.

“What happens if I switch it up against this team, and they have three left-handed relievers in the bullpen, and they can bring in their lefties to take care of my two guys that are hot in the fifth, seventh and ninth, and only use three guys out of their bullpen?” Baker said, per Janes.

The Nationals came into Monday at 19-12 and trailing the New York Mets by a half-game in the National League East. It’s too early for Baker to consider a lineup change since the one he has currently resulted in wins, and Harper won’t be walked six times every game.

If it becomes a constant issue, then Baker should consider moving Murphy up just to ensure instant offense near the top of the lineup. Zimmerman’s struggles at the plate have been well-documented the last two years, and he’s not a capable run producer at this stage in his career anymore. 


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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