LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Bryce Harper continued his torrid start to the spring season, going 3-for-3 in the Nationals’ 9-5 loss to the Braves on Tuesday, and talked his way into Wednesday’s lineup.
Harper, now 6-for-8 this spring, was originally scheduled to get a day off on Wednesday. But when he arrived at the Nationals’ complex Tuesday morning and saw Jayson Werth and Denard Span already in the lineup, he brought his case to manager Davey Johnson.
“I had him out of the lineup to rest him and he said ‘What am I doing out of the lineup? I want in the lineup,’” Johnson said. “I’m already getting it. He’s in. He talked his way in.”
“I thought having Denard in center and Werth in right and then putting me out there, our outfield set together (would be good),” Harper said. “I really just wanted to try to work in with them. Try to have a good lineup tomorrow. I like to try to get in that lineup everyday, pretty much.”
Harper mostly shrugged off his hot start to the spring. He approaches each game looking to focus on the little things. Trying to square up as many pitches as he can, trying to take good routes to balls in left field, trying to hit the cutoff man, trying to improve his jumps and reads on the basepaths.
“Just trying to feel a little bit better out there each day,” Harper said. “With everything.”
The results are, of course, pleasing to the eye as well. But Harper said he understands that it’s the end of February and the pitchers he’s facing now are going to improve with each outing.
“I faced a couple good guys but they’re not at full bore and I know that,” he said. “Facing (Braves starter Mike Minor) during the season and facing him right now is a little bit different. He’s definitely a little bit sharper during the season. He’s got good stuff right now, but it’s always better during the season. You’re going to face a lot of guys who are going to get better during the season.”
Harper is in an interesting position in that he’s still in just his second year in the major leagues — and just third camp — but he’s got a spot in the everyday lineup. He hesitated to say he’s “relaxed or comfortable because I don’t want to be that way,” he said. “I never want to be that way.”
But he acknowledges that it’s a good feeling to hear the manager say he’s going to be the team’s everyday left fielder. He’s played more than most of the Nationals’ veterans, on par more with the workload of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, but Johnson is still going to try to keep him fresh for the season as best he can.
For his part, Harper was all for getting as much playing time as possible.
“I just like to hit,” he said. “As long as I’m in the lineup, if it’s DH or anything like that… It’s just as much as he wants to play me.”
“You still have to work and compete and try to get better every single day,” Harper added. “And that’s what I’m going to try to do.”