Washington Nationals' leadoff man Denard Span singled to start last night's game with the San Francisco Giants. When Bryce Harper stepped up in the two-hole against right-hander Matt Cain, he bunted Span over, setting Ryan Zimmerman up with a runner in scoring position Zim drove in for an early 1-0 lead.
With the Nats up 2-1, Span doubled to start the eighth, and Harper once again sacrificed himself to move the leadoff man over to third. The Giants walked Ryan Zimmerman in the next at bat for a favorable lefty on lefty matchup between Javier Lopez and Adam LaRoche, and LaRoche, who entered the game 0 for 6 with 6 Ks vs Lopez in his career was 0 for 7 with 7 after he struck out looking. A groundout by Ian Desmond ended the inning and the threat, and left the Nationals with a one-run lead they ended up blowing.
"So was Harper bunting on his own?" Nationals' manager Davey Johnson was asked after the game.
"He was," Johnson said, "He looked over there [to the dugout] and I said, 'Just pull the ball,' but he's not seeing the ball, I guess, that good either, so he's just trying to help." Asked if there were any linering physical issues that might be causing the Nats' biggest offensive threat to take the approach he took, Johnson said, "No. I think he's all right."
Ryan Zimmerman said much the same when asked about watching from the on-deck circle as Harper bunted twice in last night's loss. "Bryce is still learning a lot about the game," Harper's 28-year-old teammate told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier this afternoon. "He's trying to do what he can to get us in a position to score runs, which you can't fault him for. The second [bunt] is, if you think a few batters down the line, it probably wasn't the best idea, because with the lefty up, they're obviously going to walk me and then use the lefty to pitch to [LaRoche], but [Harper's] just doing all he can to help us score runs. And I think sometimes people forget that Bryce is 20 years old and still learning how to play the game."
"But, like you said," Zimmerman continued, "when your team is struggling a little bit and trying to score runs and doing anything we can for a win, sometimes you do things that are out of character, or I guess, dire circumstances call for things that don't usually get done, but the most important thing is everyone on our team and everyone just needs to take a deep breath. Importantly us. I think, last year, we've seen this in the past couple years, it's not the team that's best in April or May that usually ends up winning the World Series. I mean, the last couple years, the Cardinals, the Giants last year and last year the Tigers were under .500 at the All-Star Break* and ended up playing for the World Series."
[ed. note - " * = for the record, the Tigers were two games over .500 at the ASB at 44-42, but you get Zim's point."]
"Do we want to do that?" Zimmerman asked rhetorically. "No. But sometimes during the season you go through some hardships and you have to play through those and we will. We have four months left and we're going to play it out and I think we still have a really, really, really good team that has a really good chance to do something special this year."
• Harper's back in the two-hole today. Here's the lineup for the Nationals' series finale in AT&T:
Today's lineup at SFG: Span CF, Harper RF, Zimmerman 3B, Desmond SS, LaRoche 1B, Moore LF, Espinosa 2B, Suzuki C, Gonzalez P— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) May 22, 2013