BOSTON — The Nationals rotate in and out of the National League ballparks so frequently, it’s not all that often that just arriving in the park itself becomes something of an event. But there was a little bit of that going around today as the Nationals explored Fenway Park. While rain ruined much of their pregame and stole batting practice, there were plenty of players popping out to the dugout just to check it out.
Pitching coach Steve McCatty looked out at the Green Monster and remembered how much he used to loathe the net that once hung above the wall (now replaced by seats). Wasn’t bad enough you just gave up a homer, but then you had to watch it roll back toward you. He also had a few fond (or perhaps not so fond) memories of the Pesky Pole and games his Oakland A’s used to play against the ridiculous Red Sox lineups of the late 70s.
Outfielder Bryce Harper wasn’t making his first trip here, having stopped by with his team as an 11-year-old on his way to Cooperstown, New York, to play. That was in 2004, the year the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918. Harper, well aware he’s only 19, was asked if stepping in here today brought back memories and he quipped “Well, that was like two years ago.”
More seriously, Harper paid homage to the history of the park and said how excited he is to be able to play here.
“Just to step in the same batter’s box Ted Williams did, that’s pretty amazing,” he said.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Nationals fare in this ballpark and how quickly they learn the various quirks, especially Harper, who’ll have to navigate the triangle in center, and Tyler Moore, who’ll be playing left field and the wall.
“That Green Monster out there is very attractive for a right-handed hitter,” said manager Davey Johnson, who certainly has a few memories of this park from his managing days as well. “We used to play all kinds of games as a hitter. A lot of times they’ll keep the ball away from you. Then they got into throwing it off the plate, in and everybody’s diving in trying to hook it.
“I have a lot of fond memories… I used to take an extra-long bat up sometimes. Anything I could do to hit a slider away on that green monster.”
On the other side of the field, it seems, the Red Sox were spending their time sizing up the Nationals. And manager Bobby Valentine wasted no time heaping praise on top of the NL East leaders and their two phenoms
“(Stephen Strasburg) is like looking at a rainbow,” Valentine said. “You don’t miss it. It’s a rather beautiful sight. He gets that pitching thing very well.”
On Harper, Valentine was equally impressed: “This is an amazing, amazing young man,” Valentine said. “He does play very aggressively. He’ll run out of the box. Our outfielders know he’ll try and challenge you. He dives in the outfield and throws all the way to the base when he throws the ball. Interesting young man. They say he’s 19 It’s incredible. … He’s doing more than holding his own.”
– With Brad Lidge back in the fold, a bit unexpectedly, Johnson has a few options back in the back end of his bullpen. A lot has changed in that regard since Lidge went on the disabled list at the end of April. Back then, Henry Rodriguez and Lidge were sharing the closer role, somewhat, while Rodriguez was inching closer toward seizing the job himself.
Rodriguez has since been removed from that role and Tyler Clippard has been getting the lions share of the save opportunities. That will likely remain the case as Johnson is reluctant to shuffle his bullpen anymore than he already has. On Friday, for the first time, he called Clippard his closer.
“I know Bradley can close ballgames,” Johnson said. “I’ll probably keep him in that group with (Sean) Burnett and my closer, Clippard. Keep him in that threesome there. Hopefully I’ll get a lot of work for Clippard, and he’ll need some relief.”
Lidge was a little surprised to be activated on Thursday morning, after just his second rehab outing. He was scheduled to pitch Friday night in Potomac for his third appearance but the Nationals deemed him ready when Henry Rodriguez was placed on the DL with a right index finger strain.
“Being in Boston tonight is better than being in Potomac,” Lidge said. “It’s definitely a little surprising. I got to the field (Thursday) and didn’t know I’d be activated. I had a good outing on Wednesday. Probably the thinking there is, Monday wasn’t great, but I felt healthy. Wednesday was better. So probably Friday would have been all the way better — but why waste that one in the minor leagues? As long as I keep progressing, my next outing should be right where I need to be.”
– Johnson said he has no concerns over Moore, a natural first baseman, getting the start in left field tonight. Moore has been playing outfield fairly regularly since he went back to the minor leagues and the Nationals were pleased with what he did for them in the majors in his previous stint.
Steve Lombardozzi got the day off, which is not surprising given how dramatically different his splits are against left-handers (.105) and right-handers (.324). But Johnson said he mentioned to Lombardozzi that it’s not because he doesn’t think he can hit left-handers, recalling what he did to C.C. Sabathia in spring training.“I said, ‘Look don’t take it as an insult because I still remember you hitting that bomb off of Sabathia in spring training,’” Johnson said. “‘I know you can hit left-handed pitching. But this is an opportunity for me to give a young guy who just got back with the club a chance to play and get him some at-bats, too.’”