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“He’s always going 100 mph,” Rizzo said, “with his hair on fire.”

Sometimes it feels as though Harper does something noteworthy every day _ on or off the field.

Like the time he batted against the Reds with blood streaming from a gash above his left eye, which later needed 10 stitches, because he hurt himself slamming a bat against a wall on an 0-for-5 night. Or when his uniform belt snapped on a dive for a liner against the Mets, and Harper found himself hustling over to Washington’s bullpen to get a loaner. Or, most famously of all, when Harper _ who is, of course, too young to legally drink alcohol in the United States, and also is Mormon _ was asked by a reporter whether he has a favorite beer.

“I’m not answering that,” Harper replied. “That’s a clown question, bro.”

So was born a phrase that took off on Twitter and spawned T-shirts that Harper and Zimmerman each sported in the Nationals Park clubhouse in recent days.

The brashness that used to raise questions about Harper now draws praise.

“He’s come a long way. I was in spring training with him last year, and to see the changes he’s made, both physically and the mental side of it _ he’s grown up a ton. He’s now got the respect of all his teammates and we all back him 100 percent,” LaRoche said.

“A lot of people on the outside, if they’re watching a guy like Bryce and only see him once a month, it might be like, `Man, that’s kind of tired. He’s going 1,000 miles an hour on a ball hit back to the pitcher?’ But when you see it every day _ that’s the only way he knows how to play the game,” LaRoche added. “If we’re down three or four runs and Bryce turns a routine single into a double, it can fire some guys up. It’s motivating. He’s been a spark plug since the day he got up here, and I don’t think that’ll ever change.”

Johnson likes that about Harper, too.

“He’s really not a kid; he’s a man,” Johnson said, unveiling his toothy grin before delivering the punch line. “But he’s a kid to me.”


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