- - Wednesday, June 13, 2018

NEW YORK – The first 24 hours of Bryce Harper’s return to Yankee Stadium was painful to watch.

And it certainly didn’t feel so good for the Nationals slugger as well.

But after getting hit by a pitch twice on Tuesday, the All-Star outfielder was in a good spot here Wednesday night in the second game of the interleague series.

And that spot was the place he dreamed about as a boy in Las Vegas: Playing center field at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx.

Harper played right field in 2016 and 2017 for the Nationals. But he was penciled in to play center field on Wednesday with veteran Adam Eaton, who came off the disabled list on Saturday, starting in right field.

Manager Dave Martinez wanted to ease Eaton back into the lineup after he missed 52 games with a left ankle bone bruise.

Eaton won’t have to cover as much ground in right field, and a plus is that Martinez feels Harper is solid in center.

“For right now, as we get Eaton going and see where he is at and he continues to play and gets a lot more playing time … I like Harper in center,” Martinez said Wednesday. “He gets really good jumps. He sees the ball a lot better.”

Harper started in right field on Tuesday and left the game in the top of the eighth when he was hit by a pitch on the foot by hard-throwing reliever Dellin Betances.

“I tried to walk down the first base line,” Harper said of getting hit by Betances. “It was no point.”

“He told me he feels fine,” Martinez said Wednesday.

Wednesday was the second time this season Harper played center field, a position he did not play in 2016 or 2017.

He played right field the last time the Nationals were at Yankee Stadium, for two games June 9-10, 2015.

The left-handed slugger, who entered Wednesday with a league-high 19 homers, played center field 92 times as a rookie in 2012, nine games the next year, seven times in 2014 and 13 games in 2015.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo came to the defense of Harper on Tuesday when an anonymous National League executive told Fan Rag Sports that he was an “overrated, selfish, losing player.”

“I think it’s totally unfair on so many levels,” Rizzo told The Washington Post.

Rizzo also said it was “cowardly and gutless” to give anonymous quotes. Rizzo said Harper has won more games than any player since he entered the majors in 2012.

Harper was not available to the media before Wednesday’s game.

On the field another good sign for the Nationals is Daniel Murphy was in the starting lineup for the second day in a row. He was 0-for-4 on Tuesday.

He returned from the disabled list on Tuesday after undergoing knee surgery in October. Murphy was the starting designated hitter for the second straight game on Wednesday. Murphy hit after the game Tuesday and took batting practice early before Wednesday’s game.

“He is ready to play so we are going to play him,” Martinez said. “It is nice to have his bat in the lineup. He said his timing was a little off (Tuesday). He is actually healthy and feeling good.”

Murphy hit .347 and .322 in his first seasons with the Nationals. A star for the New York Mets in the 2015 World Series, he will be a free agent after this season. Murphy played two summers in the Valley League in Virginia in Luray while in college at Jacksonville.

The Nationals (36-28) entered Wednesday one game back of the first-place Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

Washington lost 3-0 on Tuesday to the Yankees, but Nationals reliever Sammy Solis feels the two-game series serves a purpose. The Yankees entered Wednesday with the best record in the majors at 43-19.

“It is a good chance to gauge ourselves,” Solis said. “They are probably the best hitting team in the majors.”

Martinez said right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who went on the disabled list Sunday with right shoulder inflammation, did not travel with the team to New York.

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