VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper is scheduled to return to the lineup tonight when the team travels to Orlando to face the Braves. It’ll be Harper’s first game in a week after left calf tightness scratched him from last Thursday’s contest and has held him out ever since.
Harper’s quest to make the Nationals’ Opening Day lineup out of spring training may have been derailed a bit by the injury and time it caused him to miss, but Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Wednesday he doesn’t believe the injury will affect the decision-making process when it comes to Harper cracking the 25-man roster.
“We have a lot of games left,” Rizzo said. “It’s kind of set him back a little bit as far as getting his at-bats… but we feel he has enough time to get back in the swing of things.”
The Nationals have been pleased with Harper’s progress this spring. He’s hit .455 in four games, going 5-for-11 with a walk and two strikeouts. He’s shown great speed on the basepaths, with some aggressiveness that can get him in trouble as it did last week against the Braves. He’s also shown improvements in the outfield.
“He’s still very aggressive at everything he does,” Rizzo said. “He does everything full throttle… He’s the type of guy that, even though he may not look good in an at-bat, he always seems to find a way to get it done.”
“(With experience he’ll learn) when to pick his spots and go first-to-third and when to not hit the cutoff man and try to throw a guy out. But I like his progression defensively and offensively.”
The question of whether or not Harper, 19, will go north with the Nationals has been one of their biggest this spring. Nationals manager Davey Johnson has urged Rizzo to keep an open mind about the young outfielder and Rizzo has maintained that if he thinks Harper being in the major leagues on April 5 is what’s best for the team and best for his development, he would have no qualms about making it happen.
There are also plenty of adequate reasons for the Nationals to keep Harper in the minors even for just a month longer. His development is, of course, paramount, but if the Nationals were to start Harper in the major leagues — and they’d do so with the intent that he would never go back to the minors — they would risk losing him as a free agent one year sooner and giving up a player many expect to be exceptional in his age 25 season.
As for whether or not a decision has been made on Harper, though, Rizzo points out the remaining 19 games on the Nationals’ schedule. There’s still time.
“We haven’t made any decision to the contrary,” Rizzo said when asked if Harper still has a chance to make the team. “He’s still in the picture and we’re still early in the decision-making process.”