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Nationals' skipper Dusty Baker on opposing teams walking Bryce Harper

To pitch to Bryce Harper or not to pitch to Harper, that is the question... It's not an easy one. Washington Nationals' skipper Dusty Baker talked recently about the tough decision opposing teams have to make.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Twins' closer Kevin Jepsen challenged Bryce Harper and lost. Harper hit a ninth inning home run to straight center in Nationals Park to tie Sunday's game up and send it to extra innings.

In an MLB Network Radio interview on Monday, Dusty Baker was asked about the Twins' decision to pitch to the Nats' 23-year-old slugger with a one run lead.

"The thing about it is you couldn't put the tying run on base when you've got the top of the order coming up behind him either," Baker explained.

"There's always a gunfighter that figures that he can enhance his reputation by getting Bryce out or whoever the best is." -Dusty Baker on opposing teams walking Bryce Harper

"You can't ask your pitcher not to pitch to him, because these guys have never run from anybody most of their lives and most of these guys like the challenge of facing Bryce Harper, the same way they liked the challenge of facing Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and the greats that preceded Bryce.

"That's the whole challenge of baseball, is getting the best out. You tell your pitcher to walk this guy, are you telling him that he's not one of the best?"

Before the start of the series with the Philadelphia Phillies that wrapped up with last night's loss, Philly manager Pete Mackanin said he had a new plan for dealing with Harper, who went 7 for 11 with three home runs against the Phillies during the three-game set in Citizens Bank Park earlier this month.

One of the three homers was a go-ahead blast off Phillies' closer Jeanmar Gomez in the tenth inning of what ended up a loss for the Nationals.

"I’m going to walk him every time we face him this series," Mackanin told reporters. "I’m kidding. That’s a joke."

The Phillies walked Harper three times, twice intentionally, in the series opener, but with 4-3 lead and a runner on and two out in the ninth, Mackanin let his closer pitch to Harper and Gomez got a weak grounder for the final out.

Baker was asked about the Phillies' decision to pitch to Harper after the game, but he declined to comment.

"I don't question what another manager does, you got to ask him that one," Baker said.

Mackanin said he wasn't going to put the tying run on second and allow a single to drive the runner in.

Though Baker did not comment on the decision-making by the opposing manager, he did discuss how he thinks Harper should handle the way opposing pitchers are willing to avoid him when possible.

"They pitched around him quite a bit last year, right?" Baker asked.

"They're going to pitch around him, probably most of his career. He's going to have to -- there are certain things you can do to kind of help them pitch to you, but if they're pitching around you and they're just walking you there's not a whole bunch you can do except to be patient.

"I batted behind Hank Aaron, man, and Bryce is good, he ain't quite Hank yet. And [Aaron] found a way.

"You have to increase your concentration and patience, because you might only get one or two pitches a night to hit and when you get them, you can't miss them." -Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper waiting for the few pitches he'll get to hit

"I saw Barry Bonds, and Barry Bonds, you have to increase your concentration and patience, because you might only get one or two pitches a night to hit and when you get them, you can't miss them.

"Barry Bonds was the best at that and not only that, but a lot of pitchers they don't like running from you, really.

"Some of these guys have never run from anybody from the time they were kids and they still like the challenge of facing the best. I saw it with Hank Aaron. They had him set up for an inside fastball, and they just wanted to break his bat so they could go phone and call their father and tell them that they broke Hank Aaron's bat.

"You ever watch cowboy movies with Jessie James and all them dudes, you know how many young little dudes that they had to kill they didn't want to kill?

"No, I'm serious. It's the same, it hasn't changed.

"There's always a gunfighter that figures that he can enhance his reputation by getting Bryce out or whoever the best is. So you can expect... there are going to be some young fools out there."

The Phillies ended up walking Harper five times, twice intentionally in the three-game set, limiting him to two hits as they swept the series in D.C.

All five free passes came in the first two games.

Before the finale, Baker was asked if he thought it would eventually rise to a Bonds-esque level of avoidance.

"They're doing that now..." Baker said.

"They're going to walk him, but he's learning a lot in the process. He's learning about patience, he's taking his walks, it's just a matter if they can play on his emotions and patience to lose his concentration and stay in the strike zone."

With runners on the corners and two out in the eighth last night, the Phillies walked Anthony Rendon with Harper on deck to get a lefty-vs-lefty matchup with Elvis Araujo versus Harper in a 0-0 game.

Harper went down swinging on three pitches.

Noting that he swung at three first pitches on the night, including in that last at bat, a reporter wondered if Harper was becoming impatient?

"I don't know," Baker said.

"Most of the time with runners in scoring position, most of the time the best pitch is going to be the first pitch. Most of the time. People talk about being patient, you don't have that much time to make up your mind between being patient and being passive. The key was the second pitch [Araujo] threw him. He threw one on the black on the outside and that put [Harper] in the hole, 0-2. Bryce is human, he's not going to come through every time."