There were already plenty of questions about how Washington's first-year skipper, Matt Williams, was going to juggle the lineup when the Nationals were finally healthy and at full strength after months of waiting for Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper to be available on a daily basis. Harper's comments this week only added to the scrutiny of Williams' decision-making process thus far since everyone is back. Batting Harper sixth? Sitting Danny Espinosa? Leaving Denard Span in center and moving Zimmerman to third so Harper can return to left?
And that was all before Harper offered his own thoughts on how things would be set if he had the pen and was writing out the lineup card.
Following Harper's comments on the lineup and his place in the order, and in spite of Williams' assurances yesterday that he has Harper's back and no "rift" or tension exists, reporters like FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal are writing, as he did this morning, that the Nationals are, "...a team very much on edge, whether they admit it or not."
"I honestly think I maybe have a little different perspective, because I've been on your side," Williams told a reporter who asked about Harper's comments again today, referring to the fact that he too was once a member of the media in Arizona before he got into coaching and eventually managing.
"I also understand 'What was the question asked and how did he respond to that particular question? We don't often hear the question, we just get the response, so with regard to scrutiny regarding the lineup, that's on me. I make the lineup and that's all that Bryce said, 'He makes the lineup. I'll play left field or I'll play center, I'll play wherever he wants me to and I'll hit wherever he wants me to.' I think that's the proper response and I don't think he [said] any different. He said, 'If I had the pen it might be different.' That's perfectly fine. That's perfectly fine. It doesn't mean that he disagrees with the way I'm doing things or has some issue with me.
"What it means is, yeah, if I was him I'd want to hit third or fourth too. Who wouldn't? So, it's taken as it's taken. But I will tell you this, I think it would be beneficial I think for everybody to just see how it plays, because I don't anticipate Bryce Harper hitting sixth the rest of the year. And, one, there are a number of reasons for it, but first and foremost is he's just coming back from injury. So does he hit two for us? Yeah. Does he hit three for us? Yeah. Does he hit four? Yeah. Maybe not today, but he will and it will be this year and so, I think there's a lot made of it and that's okay."
But what about the fact that Harper, by saying he thought Zimmerman should stay in left, Anthony Rendon is great at third and Danny Espinosa is one of the best second baseman in the league, was "essentially" saying that he wanted to take over in center? Though he never mentioned Denard Span's name, that was the assumption after hearing Harper's comments.
"I would caution, because that's not what he said," Williams explained. "That is not what he said. He said, and I quote, 'We have the best second baseman in the National League. [Zimmerman] is playing very well in left and Anthony is a great third baseman.' He did not say, 'I want to play center field and put Denard on the bench. That did not come out of his mouth the other day, that I know of, because it wasn't quoted in the paper. So, I don't think he said that. Now, that may be the perception of what he meant, but that's not what he said... that I know. If anybody has anything different please tell me."
Harper did say he preferred center, a reporter noted, while acknowledging that he never said in place of Span.
"That's assumption though," Williams said. "Again, I would caution, because that's all assumption. And so, I don't know any outfielder who wouldn't love to play center. That's a great place to play. So that comment gets taken and then he makes a comment about the lineup and the guys playing so well and then that's got to be what he means?Well, he didn't say it. So, that's where we're at right now. He's good. I'm good. He wants to play. He wants to win. I want to write his name in the lineup every day. His teammates are there to support him, he's there to support his teammates. And we're going to move on. We need to play well. And that's as far as we're going with it."