Lest you think anyone in Washington, D.C. was taking the New York Mets or any of the other divisional foes for granted going into the 2018 campaign, here’s what 25-year-old Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper had to say about the NL East rivals in Spring Training.
“I think the Mets are always tough,” Harper told reporters.
“They’ve got one of the best staffs in all of baseball. [Noah] Syndergaard, [Jacob] DeGrom, [Matt] Harvey of course, I mean, against me. But [Steven] Matz, a tough lefty, and [Zack] Wheeler, whoever their fifth starter is, they’re really good. They’ve got a good bullpen and then one of my favorite players in the game, [Michael] Conforto, that guy rakes from the left side of the plate, so he’s super tough on us. But that’s always a tough team to play against.”
“Like I said, that staff is really good, so you know you’re going to run up against a couple guys over there and you’ve just got to play our game and see what happens.”
deGrom held the Nationals to two runs (one earned) in six innings in the home opener, and first game of the series with the Mets this past Thursday, and Matz walked two, struck out eight, gave up three hits, and had just one unearned run score when he was on the mound in Saturday’s game in the nation’s capital.
The losses in the first two games against New York were the Nationals’ third and fourth in a row, but first-year skipper Davey Martinez told reporters after his team fell to 4-4 going into the series finale that if they kept working things would happen for them eventually.
“I preach all the time about doing the little things, and this will turn around,” Martinez said.
“One big hit here or there and next thing you know we explode. I’m proud of our team. They’re playing to the last out, and that’s all you can ask.”
Harper joked about his numbers vs Harvey (2 for 29, .069/.152/.172, 1 HR before last night), but he got hold of a 93 mph 1-1 fastball from the right-hander in the first inning of Sunday’s game, lining a two-run home run to right to put the Nationals up 2-0 early in Nationals Park.
Harper matched his hit total from five season’s worth of at bats vs Harvey in his first two ABs, homering the first time up, then singling to center with two out in the third, and he connected for his third hit with a leadoff single in the home half of the fifth inning, then scored his second run of the game on a two-out single by Trea Turner that got the Nationals within one, down 5-4 after five.
Mets’ righty Robert Gsellman put Harper on with a leadoff walk in the first at bat of the Nats’ seventh, and Harper moved up on a one-out single to center by Howie Kendrick, but he was tagged out on the way to third on a Trea Turner grounder.
Kendrick ended up scoring, however, as the Nationals tied things up at 5-5 after seven.
Harper took his second walk of the game (3 for 3, 2-run HR, single, two walks) in the first at bat of the ninth, took second base on an errant pickoff throw, and third on a sac fly to center field by Matt Adams, but he was stranded there two outs later, after back-to-back intentional walks loaded the bases and Michael A. Taylor (swinging) and Pedro Severino (looking) struck out.
Could he have taken third on the throwing error? Third base coach Bob Henley was waving him around second, but Harper either missed the signal, or decided against moving up by two bases.
“I just didn’t want to get thrown out at third,” Harper told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the game.
“No outs, in that situation, you’re in scoring position from second base. Could I have gone? Possibly. But for me, I just didn’t want to get thrown out.”
Harper grounded out for the final out of the Nationals’ tenth, slowing up when Seth Lugo appeared to get to the bag on a grounder to first, only to have the pitcher bobble the ball before recovering it, keeping a foot on the bag to make the play.
The game went to extras before Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead RBI single that ended up being the game-winning hit in a 6-5 win for the Mets, who swept the three-game set.
“Sometimes you don’t get it done, and tonight we didn’t get it done. Good Mets team over there. They got the job done tonight. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
“They’re going to compete every day, you know,” Martinez said after the third straight loss to the Mets and the Nationals’ fifth straight loss overall.
“Their starting pitching is healthy this year, they added [Todd] Frazier, and a couple other guys. Not by any means are you going to think you’re going to come in and they’re going to lay down and let us beat them, but I’m not too concerned about any other team but this team, and if we play the games we’re capable of playing, we’re going to be fine.”