"How about that ball [Bryce] Harper hit?" Davey Johnson asked rhetorically in last night's post game press conference, "Was that a rocket or what?"
After Jayson Werth walked in a five-pitch at bat to start the bottom of the first of last night's 8-1 win over St. Louis, Bryce Harper stepped in against Cardinals' lefty Jaime Garcia and launched a 2-0 fastball to right for a line drive home run that cleared the outfield fence and skipped off the back wall of the Nats' bullpen. It was just the fifth home run a left-hander has hit off the Cards' 26-year-old left-hander in 398 career PA's against left-handed hitters. It was the Nats' 19-year-old outfielder's 5th HR off left-handed pitchers, against whom he has struggled to a .217/.279/.382 line after crushing lefties early in the season.
It was a two-run home run because Jayson Werth once again managed to get on base in front of The Kid. Harper's hit three home runs in his last two games, four in his last ten, Werth's been on base in front of Harper for three of the four. In ten games as the Nats' leadoff man, Werth has a .333/.378/.524 line.
"I really like guys that can get on base and also produce runs," Davey Johnson told reporters last night when asked about the top of his order. Werth, in particular, has been getting on base at an impressive rate since he returned to the lineup following a long stint on the DL after he broke his wrist earlier this season. In 25 games and 103 PA's after he came off the disabled list, the 33-year-old outfielder has a .337/.408/.478 line with 11 walks, 14 Ks, eight doubles, one triple and one home run. The HR came later in last night's game when Werth hit a leadoff blast in the fifth to make it 4-0 Nationals.
"Even early in the ballgame [Werth] said, 'I'm starting to feel my legs under me. I'm going to start running, is that alright?'" Johnson recounted in last night's post game. "But [Werth's] been having just quality at bats since he's been back. I mean, what a great leadoff hitter. He's got to be over .400 getting on. He takes a lot of pitches, makes them throw it over and he's hit some tough pitches for base hits."
"Both can run, both basically make them throw it over. It's great," Johnson responded when asked about his no.1 and 2 hitters. As for Harper, the Nats' manager described him as being "all in all the time," and explained the difference recently has been that he's, "... gotten a little calmer with his lower half. He kind of can get real aggressive with his lower half and he's calmed down quite a bit. That's were you get antsy, that doesn't help your swing."
"Having Werth up there in front of me is really relaxing me and making me stay within myself and really try to drive the baseball," Harper told MASN's Kristina Akra last night. There was no helmet tossing last night and not bat breaking from the Nats' rookie, who seemed to get the message when Davey Johnson made it clear following Harper's ejection in Miami that those outbursts were unacceptable. All he did last night was rake, hitting the home run in the first and an RBI single just to the left of center in the sixth that was equally impressive. All of a sudden Harper's hitting again, with a .286 average, two doubles, a triple and four home runs in his last 10 games.
Apparently having a "6'6'' donkey" leading off isn't such a crazy idea after all.