Sorry to disappoint, but no, Ryne Harper is not going to wear No. 34 with the Washington Nationals. Yes, it would be helpful for those of you who want to bring your Harper jerseys back out of the closet, but no. Just no.
“I can’t wear 34, you know that,” the 30-year-old reliever told MLB Network Radio hosts CJ Nitkowski and Steve Phillips on Thursday night, when he spoke about the trade to the 2019 World Series champions from the Minnesota Twins this week.
“That’s not me. That would be funny though. I’ve got a bunch of people messaging me on like Instagram and Twitter saying, ‘Please wear 34.’ No. I can’t do that. I think they assigned me a number. It might be 33 or something, I don’t really know. I’m sure I’ll find out in Spring [Training] and whatever number I have I’ll be happy with. But that is funny.”
Harper made his MLB debut in 2019, in his ninth professional campaign, and got off to a solid start, with scoreless outings in 17 of his first 18 appearances (over which he had an impressive 1.42 ERA, four walks, 15 Ks, and a .188/.230/.261 line against in 19 IP), and he finished the season with a 3.81 ERA, a 3.66 FIP, 10 walks, 50 Ks, and a .257/.290/.419 line against in 54 1⁄3 IP overall.
Unfortunately, the Twins designated the reliever for assignment to make room on the roster after they signed Josh Donaldson, though it wasn’t long before the Nationals traded for him.
“At first, obviously, it’s a bummer,” Harper said of getting DFA’d.
“You don’t want to ever hear that call that someone designated you, but I knew I had signed my contract for the season already, so I knew I still had that regardless, so that was a little bit of comfort in it, and I talked to my agent and we both knew and thought that I had a good chance to get traded and if not more than likely claimed on waivers, and worst-case scenario I could just go back to the Twins, off the roster, but we were both very optimistic and hopeful that something would happen and the Nationals, they were very interested in trading for me from what I gathered from talking to them and my agent and the Twins, and I’m just excited and couldn’t be more thankful and I’m excited to get there and help them win another World Series.”
The first step when the trade was done was to look at the Nationals’ roster, to see where he fit in, before moving on to more pressing matters like finding out how to get to West Palm Beach, FL in a few weeks and finding a place to live close to Washington’s Spring Training home.
“You start looking at the roster like you said,” Harper explained. “I was looking to make sure to look at where their Spring Training was because I’m about to leave here in a week and a half and I wanted to just kind of get settled and kind of also have a plan going, know where I’m going to be traveling to here soon, where I need to live. So you look at that, you look at the schedule, you just get excited about the season.”
As for the standard, “What’s he got?” questions that accompany any new addition? Harper throws a lot of breaking balls. Baseballsavant.com had him throwing 59.3% curveballs last season, and the right-hander broke down his repertoire for the MLB Network Radio hosts.
“I’ve always thrown a lot of curveballs,” he said.
“I always liked throwing the pitch, and through college I started throwing more, and then in pro ball, even early on in my early years in the minor league system I was probably still 40-50% curveballs, and then it got up to like 50%, and then last year it got up to 60%. Last year was probably the most, because that’s what they wanted me to do. They wanted me to come in and throw curveballs last year, and usually when you’re pitching they want you to throw your best pitch. You shouldn’t have to throw a fastball because it’s a fastball count or curveball because it’s a curveball count, they want you to throw to your best pitches, and that’s kind of how it takes off. I love throwing a fastball as well, but I don’t like throwing the same thing multiple times in a row. I like switching up the curveball speeds, and switching up the fastball here and there, so that’s kind of how I attack it, just throwing to hitters weaknesses and my strengths the best I can.”
It’s not just one curveball, by the way, but four according to the pitcher.
“In my head, when I’m releasing it, I throw four different types of curveball,” Harper tried to explain, “... but it’s always been with the catcher because you can’t do that, they can’t just shake to different curveballs, it’s always been one sign. The catchers, they’re professionals, they know how to adjust and they can kind of read what’s coming, so that’s how it is, it’s one sign and I throw what I feel is best in that situation.”
So, four curveballs though? Really?
“I try to do one that’s hard with a little less break,” Harper said, “one that’s a medium speed, that’s sharper, and I do a real slow one, and then I do one that I pretty much try to throw as hard as I can with big break.”
How does he choose which one to throw when?
“It depends which one is working better that day, it depends on the hitter, what they like. It depends on how their swing could have been before, kind of just go in the moment. There are some that I can control better, so in certain counts if I can get ahead with it, I’ll go with one that I feel like I can locate better. If it’s one that I’m trying to strike somebody out I’ll go with one that may or may not be exactly where I want it, but it’s going to be a little sharper.”
Whatever number he wears, it will be interesting to see where the new Harper in D.C. fits in the Nationals’ 2020 bullpen.