Davey Johnson assured reporters before the Washington Nationals' August 17th game against the Atlanta Braves in Turner Field, that if his pitcher that night, Stephen Strasburg, or anyone on the Nats' staff sought retribution for what some on the team perceived as a series of questionable HBPs on 20-year-old slugger Bryce Harper, they wouldn't be doing it on his orders. "I never order a pitcher to go after anybody," Johnson stressed that night, "but we have a way of protecting our own." What started with what Johnson and many Nats saw as an intentional Julio Teheran HBP on Harper after the Nationals' outfielder had taken the Braves' starter deep early in an August 6th game in D.C., continued in the first game of three in Atlanta when the two teams met again over a week later.
Both Alex Wood and reliever Luis Avilan hit Harper that night, though Johnson told reporters he doubted either was intentional. "It's either total ignorance or just being wild," Johnson said since intentional beanings made no sense in either scenario in which they occurred. "And I'm not sure which it is at this point." Either way, the Nationals, or Strasburg on his own, decided enough was enough, especially after the HBP by Avilan resulted in Harper missing that Saturday's game. "I'm not happy with it and I know everybody in that room is not happy with it," Johnson said that afternoon.
Braves' outfielder Jason Heyward took Strasburg deep in the first at bat of the bottom of the first inning in the second game of three, cutting an early Nats' lead in half, 2-1. Justin Upton stepped in next and the Nationals' starter delivered a message in the form of a 97 mph fastball to the back of the Braves' slugger.
Home plate umpire Marvin Hudson issued warnings to both teams, so when Strasburg went back out for the second and issued a four-pitch walk to Jordan Schafer followed by three pitches way out of the zone to Andrelton Simmons, the last two behind the shortstop's back, that was it.
Hudson ejected Strasburg and Davey Johnson with him, as per the rules after warnings and photographer Scott Cunningham (Getty Images) captured the scene as Johnson came out to argue that there was no way the last two pitches had been intentional while Strasburg left the field. Nats' bench coach Randy Knorr managed the rest of the game, and told reporters afterwards he wasn't sure if the throws behind Simmons' back were intentional, but he was okay with it either way.
"They hit Harper quite a bit," the bench coach said, "I don't know if somebody said something [to Strasburg]. Or he just decided to do it on his own. If he decided to do it on his own, I'm proud of him."
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