The first time Bryce Harper took a look at the lineup card Thursday morning, one of the Nationals’ coaches stood nearby watching. Harper’s eyes widened when he saw his own name, hitting third.
“It wasn’t like he just looked at it and walked by,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said later, a wide smile crossing his face as he discussed his decision to make Harper the youngest since Andruw Jones in 1996 to hit third in a major league lineup.
With Ryan Zimmerman sidelined until what appears to be Tuesday, Johnson has rotated several players in and our of the spot generally reserved for a team’s “best” hitter. So he sat at his desk Wednesday night and made out Thursday’s lineup against the Diamondbacks and Ian Kennedy. Then he “kind of hid it on my desk.” He looked at it again today and liked it just as much.
“Why not?” Johnson said. “He’s swinging the bat good and had quality at bats. It’s what you do. I don’t care if his name is Harper or whatever or how old he is. If you’re swinging the bat good, we’re trying to put out guys who are swinging the bat best in order to do the most damage.”
Harper, who was 3-for-4 Wednesday night with two doubles and stood at second base when Ian Desmond launched a walk-off two-run homer into the visitor’s bullpen, seemed nonplussed by the move when confronted.
“Am I hitting third?” he asked a group of reporters. “Oh, I didn’t see that. Oh, great, cool. I have no words for that. Just hopefully I can make something happen and get us going.”
When Zimmerman returns, he’ll go back to hitting No. 3 but it spoke volumes of the way Harper has impressed that Johnson even considered it. For all of his hitting prowess, Harper actually hasn’t hit third much, if at all, since he’s become a pro. He said he didn’t think he’d hit third since college, and was much more accustomed to hitting fifth, sixth and seventh.