LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Everything Bryce Harper has done this spring has been met positively and with optimism. He’s quieted his clubhouse persona, deleted his controversial twitter account, taken extra hitting, impressed coaches with his aptitude and willingness to learn the game and also gotten hits in five of his first 11 at-bats.
But Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves, Harper committed his first baserunning blunder of the season, attempting to go from first to third on a groundout to third base by Wilson Ramos. Just as he rounded second, though, Harper hesitated. Moments later he was doubled off.
“I think in his mind he wanted to be aggressive and then there was a little hesitation and he realized, ‘Oh, I’m not going to make it,’” said Nationals third base coach Bo Porter, who offered Harper a few words after the incident and tried to make it a learning experience for him.
Harper, who was hitting seventh, normally would have made that out as the pitcher was coming to the plate. In spring training games, teams use the designated hitter so it was left fielder Brett Carroll who was coming up, but in a normal game, Harper’s error may have had further repercussions if the Nationals’ pitcher was then forced to come up first in the following inning.
“I just wanted to make sure he understood that side of the picture,” Porter said. “He understood exactly what I was saying. I told him, ‘The aggression I don’t mind. If you’re going to be aggressive, just go ahead and be aggressive.’ Just commit and go.”
Neither Porter nor Nationals manager Davey Johnson had any issue with Harper’s aggressiveness in the situation, noting that it’s much easier to “gear somebody down than have to ramp them up,” as Johnson put it.
Harper, for his part, felt badly about the play, Porter said, but Porter assured him he felt it was a good play as long as he doesn’t hesitate.
– Nationals utility man Mark DeRosa has said since he arrived that he felt confident in the health of his left wrist but that getting it through spring training healthy would be important for him. Coming out of it with his power stroke intact would surely be welcome, too.
DeRosa hit his first home run of the spring on Tuesday, cutting through the wind at the Braves’ complex to send a solo-shot to left field, his first home run since February 28, 2011. DeRosa hasn’t hit a home run in a regular season game since April 5, 2010.
“That was great, but it was even more when he came in the dugout,” Johnson said. “His confidence, he had everybody laughing. He was talking about: ‘Whoa, wow, I’m back!’”
“He’s been swinging the bat great… He’s been talking about how he doesn’t belong on this club with all these big guys hitting home runs. That was a bullet.”
He wasn’t the only National to show off their power Tuesday. Jayson Werth didn’t wait long to see what Kris Medlen had to offer him, swinging at the first pitch he saw and sending it to the opposite field, bouncing off the top of the right field wall. It was Werth’s first home run of the spring.
“When has he ever swung at a first-pitch fastball?” Johnson asked with a smile.
Werth prides himself on having a patient approach at the plate, averaging 4.45 pitches per plate appearance over the course of his career. The MLB league average is 3.77. In 2011, though, Werth swung at just 15 percent of first-pitch strikes — that’s a tact Johnson would like to see him improve.
“I’d like him to be more aggressive,” Johnson said. “I know he prides himself on seeing a lot of pitches and leading the league in pitches taken, but I like to be aggressive. When they throw you a ball that has a lot of the plate, I like to see that lumber coming through there.”
– Yunesky Maya did not look sharp in his spring debut, following left-hander Gio Gonzalez to the mound and throwing two innings. In his first inning of work, Maya faced five batters and four of them absolutely hammered the ball. He escaped the inning allowing just one run but surrendered back-to-back doubles, two long fly outs and a fielder’s choice.
– Jordan Zimmermann will make his first start of the spring on Wednesday in Viera against the St. Louis Cardinals — who’ll counter with top prospect Shelby Miller.