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Bryce Harper, Davey Martinez on making Harper the Nationals’ leadoff hitter: “Why not?”

Bryce Harper has been struggling at the plate, and struggling to get pitches to hit, but he broke out with a big game after Davey Martinez moved him to the leadoff spot tonight...

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper took his 37th and 38th walks of the first month-plus of the season in the series opener with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night, and with the frustration mounting for the 2010 No. 1 overall pick, Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez decided to make a change. He put Harper in the leadoff spot for the second of four with the Bucs, after the Pirates worked around the Nats’ slugger in the first game.

“I think it’s a very creative thought,” Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle told reporters before the game, as quoted on MLB.com. “I’m sure he has his own reasoning. We probably won’t start the game with an intentional walk.”

Martinez shared his reasoning with reporters in his pregame press conference in Nationals Park.

“Last night I spoke to Harp and I just came to the conclusion, ‘Why not?’” he explained.

“I mean, really. He’s a little frustrated, and hopefully he gets some more pitches to hit. We talked about him just getting probably one [pitch to hit] an at bat, and he’s chasing a lot.

“So hopefully he gets more pitches to hit, and give him a chance maybe to get up there five times in a game, so those guys behind him are actually hitting the ball pretty well, so if he gets on, even by walk, we should have some action.”

“He asked if I wanted to do it, and I said I’ll do whatever you want,” Harper told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

“You lead off one time in a game. Every other bat, it doesn’t really matter if you’re leadoff or not.”

Martinez said he asked Harper, “How do you feel about leading off?”

“And he gave me that look. And he said the same thing, ‘Why not?’ If they walk you your first time up, great you’re on base now here we go. After that you’re not a leadoff hitter anymore. You just come up whenever you come up. We hit (Wilmer) Difo ninth, hopefully he gets on before him and we get something going.”

Harper acknowledged that all the free passes, the second-most in major league history in the month(s) of March/April, behind only Barry Bonds’ 39 in 2004, were getting frustrating.

“At 25 years old, you want to hit the baseball,” Harper said.

“I think it’s just going to make me a better ballplayer. Every single day going in, having a good mentality about it, and I’m just trying to be the best I can, trying to get on base, and having good at bats, but it’s definitely tough, but just go out there and try to get on base and score some runs.”

Martinez was asked what he remembered about the decision to hit Anthony Rizzo in the leadoff spot, when Chicago Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon made the decision to hit the left-handed hitting infielder/outfielder there last season to get him going when he struggled.

“Yeah it kind of helped get him back in the strike zone,” Martinez said.

“I know [Harper] is frustrated about walking all the time but we always tell him, ‘Hey take your walks. Walks are good, walks will get you back in the zone and when you get your pitch, just don’t miss it.”

Harper said he didn’t think he’d approach his at bats any differently, especially, as he and Martinez noted, since he’d likely only lead off the first time.

“Just going to go up there and try to have a good at bat,” Harper said, “... and not really change and not really think I’m in the one-spot, just trying to go out there and do the things I can to get on base for the guys behind me, and hopefully score some runs and win some ballgames.”

With the exception of a single plate appearance late in a game in 2016 when he took over the No. 1 spot, Harper hadn’t led off in the Nationals’ lineup since 2013, when he put up a .317/.419/.603 line with four doubles and four HRs in 75 plate appearances in the leadoff spot.

Back on top for the first time in five seasons tonight, Harper grounded out to first on a 2-2 curve from Pirates’ right-hander Chad Kuhl in the bottom of the first.

Then, after flying out to left in the third, Harper came up with two on and one out in the fifth and hit a first-pitch sinker from Kuhl over the visitor’s bullpen in left for a three-run blast.

It was his first home run since his broken-bat blast in the series opener in Citi Field back on April 16th.

Harper ended the night 1 for 3 with the three-run blast, a walk in his final plate appearance in the sixth, and two runs scored.

“He had some good at bats today,” Martinez said after what ended up a 12-4 win. “I’m proud of him. Like I said, he was frustrated. It was a good day for him.”

“I really believe, even his first at bat, he got pitches to hit today, and that was good. That was good for him. He got to swing the bat, and felt like he participated instead of going up there and walking really. I mean, he felt good. He hit a couple balls hard. The one he hit to left field, he hit a mile high and hit it to the warning track, and then he hits the home run, so it was really good, and then he had a great at bat, and took his walk, which was awesome.”

Harper clearly appreciated what Martinez did for him, and the way he’s handled things early in his time on the bench in D.C.

“He believes in our team,” Harper told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“He believes in us as a group, and we believe in him as well. He’s one of the best managers I’ve ever been around. He really values his team, and how he wants to do it and how he wants to approach it. He’s always positive, always doing everything he can to keep our spirits high.”

Martinez was asked if he planned to roll the same lineup out there tomorrow.

“We’ll let it ride for a couple days, see what happens. We’ll see what happens, but like I said, I’m proud of him because he has been frustrated and he went out there today and got some pitches to hit and hit them hard.”