The Washington Times - May 22, 2013, 03:52PM

SAN FRANCISCO — Before either of them had changed out of their street clothes Wednesday morning, Washington Nationals closer Rafael Soriano tapped outfielder Bryce Harper on the shoulder and asked him if they could talk.

The two disappeared into a players-only area for several minutes and, when they emerged, both wanted to move past any controversy stirred by Soriano’s comments late on Tuesday night.

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The Nationals lost to the Giants in extra innings after San Francisco tied the game in the ninth on a triple by Gregor Blanco that went over Harper’s head. Harper, who appeared to flinch, admitted he was concerned about another collision with the wall just eight days removed from his vicious crash into the right-field fence at Dodger Stadium.

Speaking in Spanish with a reporter from USA Today, Soriano said “If we’re positioned the right way, there might have been a different outcome. With two outs, I could tell my 4-year-old son, ‘You know where you need to play,’ and he would go to the right spot to make the play.”

Soriano said on Wednesday that he thought he was making a joke with the reporter and did not expect it to be conveyed the way it was. He was unaware of any controversy stemming from his comments until he received a phone call Wednesday morning, but he spoke with manager Davey Johnson and Harper in hopes of quashing the issue.

“I [didn’t] really try to say that to make him look bad,” Soriano said. “I talked to him and everything is fine. I talked to Davey and, you know, like I say, I’m not making excuses. To me, I think I have to make a better pitch. Today’s a new day. Come back with a zero. Right now, the team, we’re struggling. Like I said last night, we can play better games than we’re playing right now.

“You know, before I talked to you guys I wanted to talk to him and, it’s fine. The [reporter], I was joking. He asked me something, I said ‘Yeah, my son, 4 years old, he can catch that ball. I said, he can catch that ball, he’d be in better position.’ But that guy he put it in the paper like I’d be fighting with [Harper] or it was his fault. It’s not his fault. I’m not that kind of guy.”

Harper politely declined comment when asked about the meeting between the two players, saying only “He talked to me about it. It’s all good.” Asked about his positioning on the play, Harper said “I was playing where I was supposed to be. I have nothing to say about it.”

First base coach Tony Tarasco, who positions the outfielders, spoke glowingly of Harper’s ability in the outfield and spoke to the difficulty of playing right field at AT&T Park.

“It’s difficult to tell in this park, because you’re looking at the deepest part of this ballpark,” Tarasco said. “You’re looking at going from a very short side in right to extremely deep in right-center. The wall sort of shoots out. So a ball that hits track in right-center would have gone off the wall in the right field, and he would have played it off the wall. It’s difficult to judge that.

“I think you got a mix of all three. You got the mix of what he’s trying to overcome. You got the mix of the diagram of the park. You got things going the way they are. It’s an unfortunate play, and we’re not playing to the best of our ability right now.”

Said Soriano: “When you’ve got two out, you have to play no-doubles. I know he’s a little bit scared after what happened in L.A. and Atlanta, that’s what I think when I see it. When I told you guys that last night, that’s what I think. You know what? That’s it. Game over. Come back today and we try to pitch better and he can make a better play.”

Johnson did his best to nip any potential controversy in the bud on both ends and spoke with Soriano about the team’s need for veteran leadership that he hoped Soriano could provide.

“I don’t know what the big the deal is about it,” Johnson said. “The comments I read in the paper, he was just voicing some frustrations a lot of us feel. Did he go too far? Maybe. People have to realize that we’ve got a very talented ball club, but we’re still young and going through one of these trying-to-establish periods. A lot of times, people can expect too much. I love this team, and I know what we’re capable of, and I know the issues that we’re facing. The effort is outstanding. I don’t fault anybody’s effort. But it’s also a learning experience.”

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, apprised of Soriano’s comments, lauded Harper for handling the situation well and taking responsibility for Tuesday night’s play.

“It’s not the first time that players have been frustrated and had issues with teammates,” Rizzo said. “But we pride ourselves on this team to handle that stuff in-house. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with players being frustrated and talking to their teammates and asking questions, but that stays in-house. That’s taken one-on-one and man-to-man. That’s how we handle our business here.

“I feel that Harp owned up to what he thought was a mistake and he was a professional and a mature professional player who took it on himself and I know that since then those two have discussed it. We’ve all addressed it and it’s over with.”

This is not the first time in his career that Soriano has gone through public issues with teammates. While he was with the Yankees, it was widely reported that he often kept to himself and it was well-publicized when he left without speaking with reporters following a game he had a hand in blowing, leaving his teammates to speak for him.

But he hasn’t appeared to have any issues since joining the Nationals. Soriano often jokes with his teammates and engages with them. Before Tuesday’s game, he was salsa dancing in the back corner of the clubhouse with many teammates watching in amusement.

The larger issue for the Nationals from Tuesday’s game was Harper admitting that his collision with the wall in L.A. crossed his mind as he went to make that play.

On Wednesday, the Nationals said that was not only natural, but expected.

“I don’t blame him for that. He’s only human,” Johnson said, adding that the best thing for Harper to do was to keep playing and not have too much of an issue made of it. “Are we making him out to be super-human? I would be afraid, too, if I had [11] stitches on my chin and bruises on my shoulder and my knee all puffed up. I’d be a little leery, not knowing the warning track. He’s very competitive. He was probably cheating a little in from all the way back in the doubles situation, in a position to where he could throw the guy out at third. Probably thinking in the right vein, being aggressive, wanting to do something. I don’t fault him for that. It’s part of it.”

Added Rizzo: “It’s not troubling at all to me. It’s human nature and any outfielder who says, after a collision with the wall, that he’s going back on the ball not thinking about the wall, I don’t think he’s being truthful. I think it’s human nature. I think he’ll get over it, if he’s not over it already, and he’s going to be a terrific defensive outfielder. He’s already a good defensive outfielder and just learning the position.”