PHOENIX – A week ago, when Bryce Harper got his long-awaited promotion to Double-A from low Class-A Hagerstown, he mentioned to reporters that he’d been getting bored at the lower level. It wasn’t meant as a knock as much as it was a fact. Harper was a man among boys, figuratively speaking, in the South Atlantic League.
Sunday at Chase Field, Harper faced some of the best pitching he’s seen in his first pro season. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts – a fact that didn’t seem to dim his Futures Game experience from the way he spoke afterward – and unleashed a rocket throw from the left-field corner that didn’t bounce on its way to the plate.
“I don’t even care what I did today, actually,” Harper said, admitting he was trying to show off his arm on the throw. “I really don’t. I could’ve went 4-for-4 and hallelujah; 0-for-4, hallelujah, too. I’m just happy to be here, to be around the guys I am. It’s a lot of fun out here.”
Harper saw four pitches in his first at-bat, a battle against Atlanta Braves top prospect Julio Teheran, who made his major league debut this season. He looked at a 95 mph fastball for Strike 1, held off on an 82 mph change-up for a ball, swung through another change and was called out looking on another 95 mph heater.
His second and third at-bats didn’t last nearly as long, grounding to first on a first-pitch 96 mph fastball from James Paxton (Seattle) in his second at-bat and doing the same on a 2-0 pitch from Henderson Alvarez (Toronto) in his third change. One of three players in the game to get four at-bats, Harper came to the plate with a man on second in the eighth and struck out against Kelvin Herrera (Kansas City), going down swinging on a 97 mph fastball.
“You’re facing All-Stars, and that’s what’s going to happen,” Harper said. “ I just went out there and tried to get some pitches I could hit. Got some and got blown away a little bit. I’ve got to hang with it and keep chin up.”
Harper spent much of his teenage years playing in showcases or on a big stage. He was no stranger to the attention that followed him around Sunday, but he did recall that the last showcase he played in came his sophomore year of high school – which the 18-year-old joked was “like last year,” and he was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts that night. “Keep your chin up again, huh?” he said with a smile.
“I was just trying to hit a fastball,” he said. “And if I swung through a change-up or a curveball and looked stupid, that’s what happens. I was just trying to look for that fastball and hit it. I didn’t really get anything off the bat. It happens. I’m just going to go about my business.
“You know, Ted Williams used to say, he hated going into All-Star Games and facing rookies. Because you’re facing one guy every single inning [in an All-Star Game], and you’ve never faced a rookie before so you have nothing on him. I’m going to take that away from today.”
Turns out Team USA didn’t need him Sunday, blowing a 3-0 lead but coming back for the 6-4 victory over the World team with three runs in the bottom of the eighth. His Double-A Harrisburg and fellow Nationals representative, Brad Peacock, though, had nothing to explain after his impressive nine-pitch inning.
Tabbed to pitch the second inning, Peacock threw seven pitches for strikes. He came away from the experience with a wide smile and perhaps even more confidence.
“This is great,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to be here this year, and this is a great experience. I just went out there with confidence and got the job done. It was nice to come out second, get it over with, get in the dugout and watch the game.”
Where Harper, so used to the spotlight, focused more on the people he met and played with than the game results, Peacock made no secret that he took in everything about his first time pitching in a major league stadium. Asked he if he had any butterflies as he took the mound for the second, Peacock said. “Oh God, yes.”
But when it was over, Peacock could enjoy watching his newest teammate show off a little.
“[Harper] has got a cannon,” Peacock said. “That was pretty impressive. His first game with us he threw out two guys from left field, they were trying to stretch doubles and he threw them out. But that was impressive.”
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Amanda Comak covers the Washington Nationals and comes to The Washington Times from the Cape Cod Times and after stints with MLB.com and the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Recorder. A Massachusetts native and 2008 graduate of Boston University, Amanda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on Twitter @acomak.
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