May 1, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (34) bats during the fifth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Nationals Park. The Diamondbacks defeated the Nationals 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-US PRESSWIRE
Upon calling Bryce Harper up last weekend, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was unwilling to say one way or the other if the Nats' 2010 no.1 overall pick had played his last minor league game, telling reporters, "I'm not going to commit either way that he will be sent back to the minor leagues or stay in the big leagues. 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." After three games and 11 plate appearances in which he's shown remarkable poise for a 19-year-old major leaguer, FOXSports.com Ken Rosenthal recommended Nationals fans occupy D.C. airports to prevent Washington from possibly sending the outfielder back to Triple-A Syracuse. (ed. note - "Which is not something Federal Baseball.com is recommending, it's probably a really bad idea, to be honest.")
Ryan Zimmerman told reporters yesterday, after he'd worked out on the field and thrown for the first time since going on the DL, that barring any setbacks he could return by Sunday, with Nats' skipper Davey Johnson quoted by the Washington Times' Amanda Comak saying the third baseman would likely come right back instead of going through any sort of rehab assigment. "'I'd activate him right away,' Johnson said with a laugh. 'That'll be up to Zim, see how he's feeling.'"
As FOXSports.com's Mr. Rosenthal noted while advocating that Harper remain in left field even after Zimmerman returns, there are other options. "[The] Nats can demote rookie first baseman/outfielder Tyler Moore before Harper," Mr.Rosenthal wrote. The Nats' GM explained when asked why Harper was called up last Friday when Zim officially went on the DL, that he'd chosen the younger prospect over the 25-year-old Moore because the HR-hitting '08 16th Round pick had just recently made the move to left field after having played first throughout his first four seasons in the organization. The Nationals' 69-year-old skipper told the bow-tied FOXSports.com reporter that he hadn't yet thought about what rosters moves they might make. "'I don’t look that far down the road,'" Johnson's quoted stating, "'(Harper) belongs here right now. He fits. How things progress each day . . . in this game, things can change.'"
That was the set-up to the line of Johnson's that got quoted everywhere yesterday with the manager joking that his only concern with Harper was how long he'd have to have him hitting seventh before moving him up in the lineup. Harper's back batting seventh tonight for game two of three with the D-Backs, though he's playing center field tonight instead of left.
Bringing Harper up this early wasn't the plan, as the Nationals' general manager has said repeatedly since he announced the move last Friday. "Suffice it to say, this isn't the coming out party for Bryce that we had in mind," Rizzo said, "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 [was] hitting .290 with a [.421] on base percentage and some power numbers." Rizzo was asked again this afternoon by hosts Danny Rouhier and Holden Kushner on 106.7 the FAN's The Mike Rizzo show if he'd changed his thoughts about keeping Harper up for good after seeing him make his home debut last night in the nation's capital.
"He had a great debut," Rizzo said, "He had some good at bats against a tough sinker ball pitcher and he squared up two balls and made a couple of plays in the outfield. He's getting his feet wet. He's going to be a terrific player for us and a guy that we can count on offensively and defensively to be a two-way player. He's got a pretty full package. He's confident and has an aura about himself and I think he's ready to take on the rigors of a major league season."
The GM joked that before Harper, (who Rizzo says, "... is a pretty perceptive guy,") was given the news last week that he was coming up to the majors, the second-year pro had wondered aloud about the fact that Rizzo had made a trip up to Rochester, NY to watch the Nats' Triple-A affiliate in person early in the season. "When he got moved to left field the day that I came into town he was asking some questions," Rizzo said. The biggest factor in Harper's favor in terms of him staying in D.C., might have less to do with Harper's readiness and more to do with the .107/.208/.143 line they Nationals have gotten out of left field thus far.
Asked one last time by 106.7 the FAN's Mr.'s Rouhier and Kushner to clarify one way or the other if Bryce Harper was here for good or just how bad he'd have to struggle to get sent back down, the GM ended this week's Mike Rizzo Show by explaining, "Circumstances are going to let us know if he stays and if he goes, but suffice it to say, he's going to be here in the middle of that lineup for many, many, many years to come and if we have to take a step sideways to take a giant leap forward we'll do so. But he helps us win. He's learning on the major league level. Is he the perfect player yet? No he's not. But he's an intimidating player that can do a lot of things and can really impact a baseball game."
"It's just what is the best way to develop him in the right sense," Rizzo said, "And the right sense may be to leave him [to] develop in the big leagues, and with this guy's makeup and pedigree it may be right." One thing Nationals fans know for sure. They get to watch Harper again tonight at 7:00 pm EDT in Nats Park.
• Listen to the entire Mike Rizzo Show with Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier: