Washington Nationals' skipper Davey Johnson spoiled any mystery about where 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper would hit in the lineup in his MLB debut tonight in Dodger Stadium when the manager announced yesterday that the Nats' 2010 no.1 overall pick would play left and hit seventh in tonight's matchup with the Dodgers. The Nationals' '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg is going to be on the mound tonight against LA in his second career start against the NL West's current best. In his first start back following rehab for Tommy John surgery, Strasburg faced the Dodgers in Nationals Park last September 6th, allowing just two hits in 5.0 scoreless over which he struck out four and threw 56 pitches total, 40 of them strikes.
Within the last hour, the Nationals (@NationalsPR) released tonight's lineup, which for the first time includes the names of both of the Nats' recent no.1 overall picks:
Tonight's lineup: Desmond, ss; Lombardozzi, 3b; Werth, rf; LaRoche, 1b; Ankiel, cf; Espinosa, 2b; Harper, lf; Ramos, c; Strasburg, p— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) April 28, 2012
D.C. GM Mike Rizzo spoke to reporters in a conference call Friday afternoon, explaining the thinking behind the Nationals' decision to bring Harper to the majors sooner than most expected. As the general manager said, the decision to bring Harper up was more about the Nats' needs at the major league level with the team struggling to score runs with first Michael Morse and now Ryan Zimmerman out of the lineup. The Nationals are getting next-to-no production out of left field (a combined .093/.200/.120 line), so they turned to the top outfield prospect in baseball on most expert's lists (on the same day the Angels decided to call Harper's main competition for that crown, Mike Trout, back up to the majors too). Are the Nationals worried about affecting Harper's development by bringing him up out of need rather than based solely on his readiness? It was one of many questions Mike Rizzo was asked last night...
• (ed. note - "Some of these quotes from last night's conference call were already used for the first two stories we've written about the decision to bring Bryce Harper up, so you can catch up if you haven't read those yet:
• Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper To Make MLB Debut Tonight In Los Angeles: What "They're" Saying... LINK.
• Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper To Make MLB Debut Saturday In Los Angeles. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo Explains Move. - LINK
Just figured you might want to read the full context of what the Nats' GM said when explaining a decision the team did not seem to take lightly. What follows is the rest of what Mike Rizzo said in last night's conference call with reporters.")
• On calling him up to fill a need rather than as part of development:
Mike Rizzo: "I feel that we can do both in this scenario, not to avoid the question, but I think that this is going to support a team problem... but this is certainly going to aid in expediting his developmental plan and if it doesn't work out in the major leagues at this particular time, we certainly can send him back like the Los Angeles Angels did with Mike Trout and several other of the players that you mentioned obviously went back to the minor leagues before they had roots in the major leagues and never went back."
• Any hesitation to make move?:
Mike Rizzo: "With Bryce's makeup and his attitude and his confidence level, I don't have any reservations. I know this guy is a very confident person and we expect him to perform well in the major leagues, and if he doesn't he's not the type of guy that it's going to derail his developmental plan whatsoever. He's the type of guy who will handle anything that's thrown at him and be better off for it."
• Did you go watch Syracuse to see Harper, specifically?:
Mike Rizzo: "There [were] a lot of different reasons for me to go up to Rochester at that time. I did know that Zim going to the disabled list was a possibility and I did feel that I wanted to witness myself Harp in action not only at the Triple-A level but playing the corner outfield. So I think that was part of my plan, and I also wanted to see several other players perform at that level at this time."
• Update on Zim:
Mike Rizzo: "He's on the 15-Day DL. He's got inflammation in his AC joint of his right shoulder. We don't think it's a debilitating injury, but it's an injury that takes time to heal and time's going to heal it. There's nothing much else you can do for it but to rest it and we feel that we can back date his disabled list calendar back to the point where he can miss the least amount of games possible."
• Did you talk to Harper about move?:
Mike Rizzo: "I had ample conversations with [Harper], it had nothing to do with going to the big leagues and he knew nothing about it until we called him this afternoon and told him that he was going to the major leagues. We waited to see what the diagnosis this afternoon was with Ryan [Zimmerman] when he saw the doctor in Los Angeles and when the doctor said that he needed to go on the disabled list, we informed Harper that he was going to the big leagues."
• Zim longer than 15 days?:
Mike Rizzo: "The doctors don't feel that that's much of a possibility. They think that there's a good chance that he could come off the disabled list when he's eligible to come off, which would be, as we backdate it, would be May 5th, but these things sometimes take on a life of their own as we've seen with some other injuries and I'm not going to be held to a calendar date, but from what the doctors told us, it was something that I'm not too concerned about as a long debilitating injury.
• Did good start make it easier to bring Harper up?:
Mike Rizzo: "No, it really didn't come into the decision-making process. This is a guy that we feel, as we said before, had a good Spring Training. We felt that [he] needed more at bats in the minor leagues. We had a developmental plan in mind for him, we still believe in the plan and if we didn't think that he could handle the promotion to the major leagues or help us in the major leagues and not hurt his development, we wouldn't make the move. But we're comfortable in the fact that because of the person that he is, because of the skill level that he has, that we feel that this is the right move and we feel that he's going to help the team and also help in his development."
• Your take on the "hitting in the majors easier" myth:
Mike Rizzo: "From some of the players that I've talked to, I've heard that many, many times that it's easier to hit in the major leagues than it is in the minor leagues, especially in Triple-A. I don't buy into that. I think if it was easier to hit in the major leagues than the minor leagues, you'd have a lot better players coming up to the major leagues, but this is the best 700-800 players in the world. It's a very, very difficult league. It's a grinding league and you have to be at your best to perform in it. We feel that Bryce is up for it and this guy was just starting to heat up in Triple-A and I think we caught him when he was hot and we caught him when he had his stroke in tact and felt comfortable in the position that we're going to play him in the major leagues so we felt it was a prudent time to bring him to the big leagues.
• Did you give Harper the good news?:
Mike Rizzo: "Actually, our protocol is, when I made the decision I called our farm director, Doug Harris, who informed Tony Beasley, the Triple-A manager and he gets the honor and the luxury of telling players that they're going to the big leagues, so Tony Beasley is actually the one who dropped the promotion on him."
• Was it a tough decision to make?:
Mike Rizzo: "Not so much. I feel comfortable with it. I think this guy is, like I said, he's a guy who's performed at every level in his life, he's always exceeded expectations. I feel comfortable with the move even though he's only a 19-year-old player, but we feel he's a special player, and like I said, I can't emphasize it more, we've got a developmental plan in place for Bryce for his long-term excellence in the major leagues and I haven't abandoned it, I'm still committed to it, and I believe that we're going to get the best out of Bryce Harper and this is going to be a good aid in developing what I believe is going to be quite a player in the big leagues."
• [Harper] could make you abandon the plan though?
Mike Rizzo: "He certainly could. That is a certain distinct possibility.
"You know me. I'm a scout and player development guy at heart and I believe that you have to take certain steps to achieve long-term success in the big leagues and he obviously could make me abandon [our plan for him] and I hope he does, but I'm also reserved to the possibility that this may not be his breakout moment. That like [Mike] Trout with the Angels and some of the players you've mentioned before there could be a step sideways to really take a leap forward."
• When was the decision made?:
Mike Rizzo: "The decision was made when we found out the decision for Ryan Zimmerman this afternoon."
• What were you looking at in Rochester, results, overall development?:
Mike Rizzo: "I rarely go by pure results. It was certainly where I thought he was in his developmental curve, his approach at the plate, how he handled playing in an accelerated league, how he handled the aspects of playing left field. All those things came into play when we made our decision."
• Any debate about Harper starting in majors out of Spring Training?:
Mike Rizzo: "I think Davey's interest in having him break camp has been well-documented. I think at the end of the day we felt that we had a developmental plan in place for Bryce. I felt that he needed to handle each and every level of our minor league system before he got to the big leagues. So that was kind of put to rest early with the little calf injury that he had. That he lost a lot of at bats in major league Spring Training. That kind of put that to bed relatively quickly. When he played he was having a good Spring Training. We saw him come a long way from last year's Spring Training to this year's Spring Training and I've seen him take that step forward when I saw him play in Triple-A just a couple days ago to really show that he's really worked on the small nuances of the game that we asked him to work on and he was improving and getting closer to his goal of being a major league player."
• Harper vs Left-Handers?:
Mike Rizzo: "I think he's come a long way in that progression. I know the numbers don't bear it out, but I saw him hit against left-handed pitching a couple of times just recently and in Spring Training. He's a guy that is fearless at the plate, he doesn't give against left-handed pitchers and I think at the end of the day when he sees more and more and gets more experience with left-handed pitching he's going to be just fine with lefties and with righties."