TORONTO — The chants cascaded down on Bryce Harper all night, reaching their crescendo in the seventh and eighth innings. “Harrr-perrr,” the Toronto Blue Jays fans screamed. “Harrr-perrr.”
The 19-year-old didn’t appear to flinch, his focus on the gem Edwin Jackson was spinning.
In the fourth inning Monday night, Harper moved from right field to center, sliding over after Roger Bernadina left the game with a strained right hamstring. Before the seventh, manager Davey Johnson told him he’d be shifting back to right with Rick Ankiel inserted into center.
“He said he was hoping I’d leave him longer in center field because he hadn’t made friends with all those people out there yet,” Johnson said. “He said he’s friends with the ones in right and he needs to work on the ones in center a little longer.”
After the game, Harper could only laugh.
Early on, as they yelled his own last name at him, he pointed to his back, acknowledging, Yes, that is indeed my name. Then he went out and showed why the name comes with such hype. Harper was 3-for-4 Monday night, reaching base in his first four plate appearances with three singles and a walk.
When it was over and the 39th major league game of his career (38th start) was complete, Harper was flirting with a .300 batting average (hitting .295). The Nationals had planned for Harper to get 200-250 at-bats in the minor leagues this year before he was deemed ready for the majors.
That timeline was sped up. He had his 218th at-bat of the 2012 season (major leagues or minor) last night. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who still thinks he needs more seasoning.
Harper currently leads the Nationals in average (.295), on-base percentage (.381), slugging percentage (.527), and OPS (.908).
Ever seen a 19-year-old do what he has, Adam LaRoche?
“Has anybody?” LaRoche said. “I don’t think you see many 19-year-olds come up and play period. Much less be hitting two-hole on a first-place team and doing the things he’s doing. Just unbelievable.”
Before Monday night’s game, Johnson was talking about Harper. He talked about his approach at the plate, about his strike zone knowledge and his ability. Before he walked out onto the field to watch his team take batting practice, Johnson stopped, turned around and left one parting thought.
“He’s not going back,” Johnson said before breaking into a wide grin and chuckling. No kidding.