The Washington Times - July 1, 2012, 10:23PM

ATLANTA — Nationals’ rookie outfielder Bryce Harper has been considered a lot of things. And earlier this season, maybe no more than three weeks ago, even he pondered the idea of what it would be like to be considered an All-Star.

Back then, his numbers were more robust, his production coming at a more feverish pace. Harper’s .274 average, .348 on-base percentage and .471 slugging percentage are solid — in fact extremely impressive. He’s played in 57 major league games and won’t turn 20 until this coming October. 

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But when the Nationals wrapped up a 6-0 road trip through Boston and Toronto, those numbers read like this: .303/.384/.548. Harper was the most productive player on the best team in the National League East. An All-Star nod was all-but expected.

When the selections were announced Sunday morning, though, Harper no longer thought he’d have a shot to be among them, his last 16 games falling below his astounding earlier production.

But he still has a chance.

Harper is among five National League players up for the Final Vote selection and given his obvious popularity and notoriety, you’d think he’d be a shoo-in. But Chipper Jones, the Braves’ future Hall-of-Fame third baseman who is retiring after this season, is likely his stiffest competition — and Harper knows it.

“It’s an accomplishment I guess but you got Chipper up there,” Harper said. “I think a Hall of Famer should be able to go to the All-Star game his last year. If I was going to make a vote, I’d go vote for Chip.”

“He should have already been in the All-Star game no matter what,” Harper added. “He’s an All-Star and has been an All-Star for twenty years. I think Chip should be there and, like I said before, if I had to vote, Chip’s going.”

Fans have until 4 p.m. on July 5 to cast their votes. Harper and Jones are also up against Atlanta’s Michael Bourn, St. Louis’ third baseman David Freese and Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill, but more than likely it’ll be a two-man race between Harper and Jones. 

The Nationals might actually prefer it if, as Harper seems to anticipate, Jones wins. Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Sunday he’s hoping that Harper will use the break to rest, having played every game since his call-up on April 28. Harper spent a few weeks nursing a sore lower back and while he’s still receiving treatment on it, it’s more preventive at this point. Either way, a few days off would likely do his body some good.

“I do (think he has a shot to win),” Johnson said. “But I hope not. I hope he gets the rest. I’ve been playing him everyday, every inning. I hope he gets the rest.”

Several of his teammates, though, felt that not only could he win but that he deserved the honor.

“Nineteen years old,” said left-hander Gio Gonzalez, himself an All-Star for the second straight year. “That says it all. He’s just an unbelievable player, an unbelievable athlete. Goes out there and works really hard every day. He wants to be the best every day. And you can deeply appreciate that when he’s right behind you and playing his best.”

“I think he’s got a pretty good chance,” said Ian Desmond, the Nationals’ lone current position player selection. “Obviously he’s a fan favorite everywhere he goes. Even though they boo him, I know they still love him. He’s played hard for us so far and we don’t expect anything less. I don’t think anyone else should either.”

Harper, while deferring to Jones at every turn, did admit that he would love to be included in the game.

“It’d be great,” he said. “I think it’d be a lot of fun to be out there around guys like that and stuff. But taking some time off and going home for four or five days, I think, would be good also. Like I said, I hope Chip gets in there. Hopefully I can get in there. If I don’t, then hopefully it’s Chip.”

“When my numbers were better, I think (it was a goal for me),” he added. “But struggling a little bit for the past two-and-a-half weeks or so, and Chip is hitting (.292) with (six) home runs and (29) RBI. I think he should be there.”

As for Jones, he sounded nonchalant on the issue either way. The 40-year-old is a seven-time All-Star, including in 2011 in Arizona, but this is his last shot and most seem to think it’d be a fitting tribute to the 1999 NL MVP and surefire Hall of Famer.

“It’s always an honor to represent your team, your organization and your league in the All-Star game,” Jones said. “This being my last year, obviously would be fun to go. I’d love to take my kids to an All-Star game, so we’ll just have to wait and see. It’s a win-win either way. If I get to go, then I get to give them that experience and have a little fun myself. And if I don’t, we’ll find something else to do for four days.”