Yes, Will Harris, whose 3-year/$24M free agent deal with the Washington Nationals was announced on Friday, did give up Howie Kendrick’s big Game 7 home run in the World Series this past October, and yes, it did end up being the decisive moment in the best-of-seven matchup. But no, it was not really something that ended up keeping the 35-year-old reliever from deciding to join the team that beat the Houston Astros in the 115th Fall Classic.
Harris talked to reporters on Friday afternoon in a conference call where the subject of his recent history with his new team inevitably came up, and he answered the questions honestly, acknowledging that he had to take a moment to get past the way things worked out for his now-former team in 2019 before he settled on a new home after testing the free agent market.
“The initial — early-on stage of it was a little bit different. I kind of don’t know how to put it [into words],” Harris said.
“That’s the first Game 7 World Series home run I’ve ever given up, and I plan on it being the last, so I kind of didn’t really know how to feel about it, and how I felt about the Nationals, other than everybody that I talked to had nothing but great things to say about Washington, and I think as like professional athletes in general you have a sense of like one moment can ruin a lot of positive things you’ve done over a really long time, which is really silly that we feel that way and we think that way.”
“So,” Harris continued, “... to kind of get myself out of that mode of thinking, and realizing Washington was somewhere that was going to be really good for me and good for my family, and it was something that I really needed to move past to have this all work out, it didn’t take me very long. It took me a little while thinking about it, I was like, ‘Look, man, there’s a lot of baseball left to play,’ and I’m looking forward to doing it in an organization that I’m really comfortable being a part of.”
Harris finished his fifth season in the Astros’ bullpen with a 1.50 ERA, a 3.15 FIP, 14 walks (2.10 BB/9), 62 strikeouts (9.30 K/9), and a .196/.246/.294 line against in 60 innings, and the only runs he allowed in the postseason came on home runs in Games 6-7.
The eight-year veteran put up a solid .207/.226/.264 line against vs left-hand hitters in 2019, with a .183/.269/.333 line against vs right-handed hitters on the season.
So like he said, a lot of positive things came before he gave up the blasts in the final two games of the World Series.
Over his five seasons with the Astros, the right-hander put up a 2.36 ERA and a 2.99 FIP, with 60+ appearances in four of the five campaigns.
What’s allowed him to be so durable, and successful with the stuff he’s working with, a two-pitch mix of a cutter and curve?
“I kind of get asked that question a lot, and I don’t think there’s really one thing,” Harris said.
“Like I haven’t changed at all for my entire professional career, I’ve kind of been the same pitcher and done a lot of the same things that I’ve had success with for a long time, so to me it’s kind of all that I’ve ever known, the way that I do it. I haven’t added any pitches, or subtracted any pitches, I only have mainly two that I throw all the time.
“My recipe for success has been the same, and I don’t know it’s cliché to say, ‘If it isn’t broke don’t fix it,’ kind of thing. I’ve never felt really the need to change.
“This year I’d probably say I threw my breaking ball more than in past years, but it wasn’t like a lot more. I just was more comfortable maybe throwing it behind in counts and things like that, which is never the idea to get behind in a count anyway, so some of my outings went how they always have gone for years without really changing anything.”
Harris has a 92 MPH cutter (against which hitters had a .242 AVG in 2019), and an 82 MPH curveball (against which hitters had a .151 AVG), and though he increased his curve usage last season (up to 42.1% from 31.3% in 2017 and 37.5% in 2018), like he said, he didn’t really change things up too much.
His success in 2019 set him up nicely for free agency, and he went into the market looking for a three-year deal and got it.
Did he expect that he would get three years from someone this winter when the process started?
“I don’t know about an expectation, I think just more about maybe a want,” Harris said.
“Some of the set-up men and things like that have come over the last couple of years were signed to three-year deals, so we just were obviously going to ask for that on the front end with teams and just see how they go.
“I think free agency is a unique experience. You don’t really know how it’s going to shake out until you kind of get out into the marketplace.
“Some teams received us asking for a three-year [deal] well and some not so well, I think it kind of depended on the individual organization.
“And obviously the Nationals were more than open to it and willing to do it, and that was a positive for us obviously.”
And joining a roster that will once again feature Kendrick, whose opposite field, two-run homer (on what was really a pretty well-executed pitch) put the Nationals ahead for good in Game 7? What’s that like?
“I don’t know him. I’ve never met him,” Harris said. “We have mutual friends, and everyone that I’ve talked to has said, ‘Look man, there’s no better guy in baseball, if you’re going to give up one that’s the guy to give it up to.”
And as much as the result will sting for a while, it is... part of the game.
“It’s the nature of the game that we play. Like I said after Game 7, he made a championship play for a team that went on to win a championship, and so it was more of a tip of the cap thing for me. There’s no bitterness or anything like that from my end, other than would I have liked it to go a different way, of course, but there’s a lot of moments in my career I wish would have gone a different way, but you just can’t do it. It’s the way it is, that’s sports.
“I’m looking forward to playing and getting an opportunity to maybe one day get myself back in that situation and maybe it will go differently, but maybe not. But yeah, I’ve heard nothing but great things about Howie, and it is what it is, and I’m looking forward to being his teammate.”