Bryce Harper has been one of the most feared hitters in baseball so far and on Tuesday night he showed why opposing pitchers have been dreading pitching to him. With the Washington Nationals locked in a 0-0 game with the Atlanta Braves in the bottom of the eighth, Bryce Harper strode to the plate with runners on first and second. So far this season, pitchers had gone out of their way not to pitch to Harper in this situation. The young phenom had come to the plate with runners in scoring position five times and he walked all five times. This time, he saw a pitch he could hit and drilled it into left field for a two-run double.
Harper’s RBI double ended up being the only runs his team would need, and despite the Nationals allowing a run in the top of the ninth, Washington improved to 4-1 on the season. On the flip side, Harper’s run-scoring hit sent the Atlanta Braves to a 0-7 start. As ESPN pointed out, this is the first time Atlanta has been 0-7 since the 1988 season when they began the season 0-10. Harper’s heroics also mean his team has now won 12 straight home games against the division rival.
Bryce Harper, the reigning NL MVP, isn’t boasting a batting average or slugging percentage that is going to raise a ton of eyebrows, but that’s mainly because Harper has been doing his best Barry Bonds impression so far this season. The outfielder’s 1-4 on the day lowered his average to .300 but his other numbers would make any major league manager salivate. Through just six games, Harper has hit three doubles (including tonight), two homers, and he’s driven in five runs. Perhaps most impressive of all is he’s already walked seven times in just 27 plate appearances while striking out exactly once all year.
Those walk-to-strikeout numbers are unheard of in the modern era when talking about a power hitter. That’s why Bryce Harper is among the most feared hitters in all of baseball. His performance on Tuesday showed why he’s so valuable to his own team. Harper’s squad was locked in an old school pitcher’s duel between Gio Gonzalez and Jhoulys Chacin. This was despite the fact that neither pitcher had taken the hill in a competitive game. Considering this was the eighth day of the new season, the Washington Post points out both pitchers would have been excused if they struggled. Bryce Harper was likely hoping that Chacin at least would struggle a bit more than he did, but the Braves pitcher was able to keep the Nationals outfielder in check during his outing.
Harper finally got to reliever Jim Johnson who was handed his second loss. Despite Bryce Harper’s heroics, Washington still almost lost the game thanks to some struggles by the Nats bullpen in the top of Bryce Harper’s heroic frame. Reliever Oliver Perez came in and allowed two runners to reach base. In what was a bit of a mirror image to the eventual bottom of the frame, Freddie Freeman came up with two on. Perez retired Freeman but then allowed a single to load the bases. Jeff Francoeur stepped to the plate with a chance to give his team a big lead, but unlike Harper, he couldn’t come through grounding into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
That failure on the top of the inning, with the score left at 0-0, likely led to Johnson believing he had room to go after Harper with RISP. Bryce Harper made it crystal clear: deciding to pitch to such a dangerous hitter with the game on the line is simply not a good idea. Bryce Harper and the Nationals have now won five of their first six games and stand all alone in first place in the NL East.
[Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images]