VIERA, Fla. — Bryce Harper had three at-bats on Friday in the Washington Nationals’ spring opener against Georgetown University. He walked, dropped down a drag bunt and sent one to the warning track in right field.
“It was probably going out on a normal day,” said Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson, noting the strong wind coming in from right field probably kept the ball within the confines of Space Coast Stadium.
“Ah, sure, I’ll take that,” Harper said with a laugh when apprised of his manager’s assessment. “Absolutely.”
“I don’t know,” he added, more seriously. “I got it pretty good. I didn’t get it as good as I could but that wind howls a little bit to right so I was just trying to put something in play and get going.”
Were Harper anything but quite possibly the most hyped power-hitting prospect in a generation who took some pretty extreme measures to accelerate his path to the minor leagues, he’d have been a freshman in college this spring. The Hoyas had eight freshmen on their team, the rest — and perhaps some of those freshmen — were likely older than Harper. “I didn’t even think about it,” he said.
Instead he was getting nostalgic about when he was in college and what the Georgetown players were probably feeling.
“I remember when I was in that situation, being in college,” Harper said, referring to his one year at College of Southern Nevada. “Being able to go out and play a pro team or face a guy like (Matt Purke), it was a lot of fun… It’s cool for them to be able to come out here and play a professional team and see how we go about our business.”
Harper’s day consisted of five full innings of work. He made two catches in right field, saw four straight balls in his first at-bat (it appeared Georgetown pitcher Will Harris wanted nothing to do with the Nationals’ phenom) and, aside from the fly out to right, there was the bunt.
“In the on-deck circle I was just like, ‘All right, well I’m going to go up there and try to lay one down, see what happens,’” Harper said. “I’m just trying to work on things in spring training.”
Harper, who isn’t exactly known as a small-ball player, laid down one successful sacrifice bunt in 452 minor league plate appearances in 2011.
“No big deal,” Johnson said, admitting that he did not give Harper the bunt sign (a sign Johnson generally says is not even in his arsenal). “He was just trying to get something going. It was close to being a base hit. I’m sure if you talk to Bryce he’d say, ‘Well we’re playing a college team.’ That’s the way he looks at it, he was working on his bunting and baserunning.”
Saturday may be a bit different. Harper is slated to travel with the team to Kissimmees, batting seventh and playing right field. He’ll be in a different type of lineup than the one he was today — one that will contain at least two regulars in Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa at the top — and will face Livan Hernandez, a pitcher who’s been in the major leagues since Harper and much of the Hoyas were toddlers.
“I was really excited today,” Harper said. “I’m going to be excited tomorrow, and the next day and every game I play.”
He’s also going in with a plan, it seems.
“I’ll just try to get something up and hopefully get something out and over the plate where I can drive it into the left-center field gap. I think that’s the biggest thing. I don’t want to try to do too much and get too big and try to hit a ball to right field. He’s got that off-speed stuff and he really knows how to pitch.”