Bryce Harper was not in a reflective mood late Saturday afternoon.
The man who has carried the Washington Nationals on offense throughout the first month of the season had just reached base in three of his four plate appearances, hit his ninth home run of the season, scored two runs, driven home two, and walked. Oh, and his team won the game.
But he was still kicking himself for flying out in the first inning with Danny Espinosa on first base — something he was demonstrably upset about at the time, barely leaving the batters box as his weak fly ball settled in left fielder Chris Heisey’s glove.
“You gotta get that guy over,” Harper said nearly four hours after the fact. “I was pretty frustrated by that and not being able to do that. I kind of looked like a crybaby, but it was something I had to do.”
That response, in a nutshell, sums up Harper as he hit a milepost in his young major league career.
It was April 28, 2012 that he made his debut for the Nationals against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. And Saturday’s game against the Reds was the 162nd regular-season game in which he has played — a full season’s worth. Harper has 31 home runs in that span and the same amount of doubles, along with 10 triples. He has driven in 77 runs and scored 115. He has hit .284 and posted an .873 OPS.
The Nats, and any other team, would take that from the left fielder over a full season. Especially when said left fielder is still 5 1/2 months from his 21st birthday. Yet here he was obsessing over basically the one minor thing that went wrong for him in Saturday’s win.
“He expects a lot of himself,” said manager Davey Johnson. “That’s a great trait.”
And frightening, if you happen to be the opponent. For, one year in, there are absolutely no signs that Harper is satisfied with anything he’s doing. Obliged Saturday to comment on his one-year anniversary, Harper acknowledged it has flown by “pretty quick” before deflecting credit to those around him.
“I had a fun year last year and I think being able to have a team and an organization that really brought me in with open arms and gave me the opportunity to play in the big leagues last year, I was so fortunate,” he said. “Having a group of guys around me that really took me under their wing and said ‘Hey, you’re with us now and we’re ready to go.’ It’s been like that ever since then.”
Harper has impressed plenty of people in that room over the past year, even more so than those who only see what he does on the field. It was clear people around the game weren’t quite sure what to expect from this kid, but it seems safe to say at this point that no doubters remain. Certainly not among those who know him best.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Nats reliever Tyler Clippard. “He doesn’t play like a 20-year-old, that’s for sure, and when he got here last year he didn’t play like a 19-year-old. His baseball IQ and what he has just naturally, mentally, is far beyond his years.
“He’s matured more rapidly than most guys do at this level and he seems to get better daily. You can’t say that for a lot of guys, and for a guy with his talent on top of his ability to get better every day – I’m glad he’s on my team.”