Apr 28, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) reacts after grounding out to end the top of the second inning next to first base coach Trent Jewett (right) at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE
While the Washington Nationals were out in Los Angeles, California's Dodger Stadium where the Nats' 2010 no.1 overall pick Bryce Harper made his MLB debut last night, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was in the nation's capital at the White House Correspondents' Dinner sitting with George Clooney, Stacy Keibler and Kim Kardashian, honoring a commitment he told MLB Network Radio's Jim Bowden and Jeff Joyce in an interview this afternoon he had made long before the decision to bring Harper up to the majors was announced. The Nationals' general manager was following along closely, however, as the 19-year-old went 1 for 3 with a double and an RBI sac fly, and the GM was impressed with the way Harper handled himself. "I think he conducted himself beautifully, professionally, maturely," Rizzo said, "and I loved seeing the shots of Rick Ankiel sitting with him calmly in the dugout afterwards and during the game and [Harper] getting encouragement from the veteran players."
"Like I said earlier on," the Nats' GM continued, "this guy in Spring Training this year fit in perfectly with the ballclub in the clubhouse, and there was a maturity about him and professionalism about him that we hadn't seen the year before. This guy's taken a lot of strides and a lot of steps in his career, in a short professional career and I think he's a guy that, he's a special guy and he's got some special skills and the player development guys, every coach and every coordinator, manager, from Bob Boone to Doug Harris, they've done a terrific job with this guy, expediting his developmental curve to the point that it gave me the confidence to know that he could handle anything that they throw at him on the big league level."
The Nationals' GM made a well-documented trip to Rochester, NY to watch the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs in the days before Harper received the news that he would get the call up to make his debut, and what Rizzo saw there, he said, convinced him that the second-year pro was ready to make the move and help the big league club. "He was centering the ball," Rizzo explained, "He put the barrel on the ball a lot. We saw him play left field. What really impressed me were some of the routes and angles that he took in left field. Tony Tarasco, our outfield coordinator, has worked diligently with his throwing mechanics and keeping him online. We all knew when he drafted him he had an above average arm, but now his feet are working much better, he's much more athletic as an outfielder. We saw last night, got behind the ball and [made an] over-the-top, online direct throw and he's a guy that plays both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively. I thought that he'd give us some energy and I thought he would not be overmatched by right-handed pitchers and most left-handed pitchers."
• The Throw:
Before the MLB Network Radio hosts knew that Harper would be playing center field this afternoon, Mr. Joyce asked the Nationals' GM if he thought Harper was capable of handling the position at the major league level, after just 32 games in center over two minor league seasons, if and when Michael Morse returned to play left. "The reports on him and from what I've seen of him in center," Rizzo said, "He can handle the position. We'll be taking a little defensively away but we feel adding offense with Bryce out there and in this hypothetical situation that we're talking about, if that's the case, we'd certainly feel comfortable with him out in center field if he's adding that type of offense to the lineup."
When former Nats' GM Jim Bowden pointed out the way in which Harper calmly worked the count in every at bat in his first major league game, the current general manager said the preternaturally gifted hitter, in the few games he saw the top outfield prospect in baseball play in Rochester recently, "... often times had a better eye than the umpire behind the plate."
"Now, I've seen this in two other situations that I've had," Rizzo continued, "When Frank Thomas was a young player in the minor leagues, he had a better eye than the umpires did and when he struck out it was often called third strike by the umpire, and Conor Jackson had the same thing as a young player with the Diamondbacks. In the lower minors and in the Double-A, Triple-A levels, their eye is often better than the umpire's eye. So their numbers say they're striking out or they're getting behind in the counts, but in the big leagues where the umpires are the best in the world, they're often ahead in the count."
Harper hit a sac fly in the top of the ninth last night for what Mr. Bowden said should have been the game-winning RBI, and Rizzo agreed that it was the most impressive thing he saw from the young outfielder in his first game. "To me," Rizzo said, "The sacrifice fly was as important as anything he's ever done for me. When he got up to the plate, first and third, less than two outs, I felt extremely good that he was at the plate. I felt inside me that he was going to do something positive to get that run in no matter what it was. And also, when you've got a guy who's a 19-year-old big leaguer, who's played all three positions in the outfield but hasn't really got a lot of time in any one of three, comes up in a huge part of the ballgame, base hit to left field [and] he throws a strike to more or less throw out that runner in a normal situation... would have thrown out that runner and kept the game where we wanted it to be. So those two things kind of showed me, this guy, the brighter the light, the sharper he is."
Joining Harper in the majors today, will be 25-year-old outfielder/first baseman Tyler Moore, who Rizzo said was the obvious choice to get the call with Mark DeRosa headed to the DL with an oblique issue. Moore, who's hit seven home runs already this season after hitting 31 in each of the last two minor league campaigns is a player the GM said has, "... a real simple, uncomplicated stroke... can hit for average and for power and he's really cut his strikeout totals down. He's got a much more efficient approach at the plate and an efficient stroke and when he barrels it, it will go." That's two power bats added to a lineup that's struggled to score runs. The future is now in the nation's capital. Or out in LA, for another day at least.