At 4:34 pm EDT this afternoon, the Washington Nationals sent a note out to Nats beat writers advising reporters that a "newsworthy" baseball announcement would be made in a 4:50 pm conference call with D.C. GM Mike Rizzo. Right around the same time, MLB.com's Bill Ladson (@washingnats) wrote on Twitter that he'd been informed that RHP Ryan Perry had been called up from Triple-A Syracuse. "Did that mean a reliever was injured?" some wondered. Was there more bad news to come? Not exactly*. The information leaked right before the scheduled start time for the conference call.
The Washington Nationals placed Ryan Zimmerman on the 15-Day DL with right shoulder inflammation and called 19-year-old 2010 no.1 overall pick Bryce Harper up to the major leagues to make his MLB debut on Saturday afternoon against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Dodger Stadium. The Nats' GM made the official announcement at the start of the conference call.
"As you all probably know by now," Rizzo said, acknowledging that the news was already out there, "Unfortunately we're going to have to place Ryan Zimmerman on the 15-Day Disabled List with inflammation in his right shoulder and he'll be replaced on the 25-Man Roster by recalling Bryce Harper to the Major League roster."
In his second season as a pro after a .297/.392/.501, 24 double, 17 HR season split between Class-A Hagerstown and Double-A Harrisburg in 2011, Harper had a .243/.325/.365 line with four doubles, a triple and a home run in 20 games and 82 plate appearances at Triple-A Syracuse before he was called up today.
Asked why the Nationals chose now to call Harper up to the majors, the Nats' GM told reporters that the decision, "... is really a team decision. It's to support the major league club in really a time that we need an offensive player that can play corner outfield. It was a choice between a couple of players on the farm, Tyler Moore and Bryce Harper. Tyler Moore just didn't have the experience to play left field at the major league level yet, he's just started to play there several weeks ago. We felt at this time, we still have a very good and committed developmental plan for Bryce in place. I still believe very passionately in the plan and I'm going to be very committed to it, but this was expedited by the circumstances, by two of our middle of the lineup guys going down, [Michael Morse] and Ryan Zimmerman, and we felt that we needed to bring in an impactful left-handed bat that can play the corner outfield."
"I'm not going to commit either way that [Harper] will be sent back to the minor leagues or stay in the big leagues," Rizzo responded when asked if the young outfielder was up to stay. "When Zim gets off the disabled list, we'll be monitoring the situation obviously on a daily basis and we'll make our decisions then. Suffice it to say, this isn't the coming out party for Bryce that we had in mind. This isn't the optimal situation developmentally for Bryce, although his last six games, as usual he started off the season fairly slowly, but the last 10 games he's hitting .290 with a [.421] on base percentage and some power numbers. The last six games he's hitting .313 with a home run.
"I just witnessed him playing the last three days in Rochester for the Syracuse club," Rizzo continued, "He's swinging the bat extremely well right now and looked very comfortable in left field. So with that said, we're not going to vary from our developmental plan for Bryce. I've always had in mind that I would love [for] him to get 300 to 350 at bats in the minor leagues and as time goes by and Zim comes off the disabled list, we'll monitor the situation and we'll make our decision at that time."
How long he'll stay is undetermined. The mystery about when he'll make his MLB debut has been solved, provided Davey Johnson puts Harper in the starting lineup tomorrow night. The Nationals sent Harper to Triple-A Syracuse with the intention of getting him used to playing center field after he'd seen time at each outfield position over his first year in the Nats' system, but when he comes up now Harper will play left. "We haven't abandoned the plan to play center field by any means, but the need for us right now is to play corner outfield," Rizzo explained "When he gets to the big leagues he will play left field because that's the place that we need him at this time. He's played all three outfield positions. We feel comfortable that he can play right, center and left. I went down there to see him play the last couple days just to make sure that he was comfortable in left and he looked very comfortable out there and played it extremely well."
Nats' skipper Davey Johnson lobbied for Bryce Harper to have an opportunity to make the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training if he earned the job. The Nats decided he wasn't ready this Spring and they sent him to Triple-A to get some work in at the only level he hadn't yet touched. 20 games and 72 at bats later, with the Washington Nationals 15-4 after 19 games, and relying on unbelievably good starting pitching to get them to where they are thus far, the Nationals' manager gets the left-handed power bat he said all winter and Spring he felt he needed. Bryce Harper will make his MLB debut on Saturday.
(ed. note - " * = Washington Times' writer Amanda Comak has since reported that a source says Brad Lidge is going to be placed on the DL with an "abdominal wall strain," thus explaining the decision to bring RHP Ryan Perry up to the majors.")