Acquired from Minnesota this past January in return for minor leaguer Hunter McMahon, Ryne Harper, who debuted in the majors with the Twins in 2019, putting up a 3.81 ERA, a 3.66 FIP, 10 walks (1.66 BB/9), 50 Ks (8.28 K/9), and a .257/.290/.419 line against in 54 1⁄3 innings pitched, made his Nationals debut in Washington’s first win of the 2020 season Saturday night.
Harper worked around one hit in two scoreless frames, striking out four of seven hitters in a 31-pitch, 18-strike outing.
His new manager, Davey Martinez, was impressed with the assortment of benders the righty dropped on the New York Yankees’ hitters.
“We got him and we thought — we liked him when we saw him last year,” Martinez said.
“I like his funk. He’s got a couple different curveballs, he can attack with the fastball up, he’s got a little cutter, two-seamer, but I really like what he can do, and what he can bring out of that bullpen. And give you multiple innings, which he did today. That was fantastic.”
[ed. note - “About that ‘funk’, @PitchingNinja on Twitter apparently liked it too.”]
Ryne Harper, Filthy Curveballs. pic.twitter.com/lCIW1yJ5bt— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 26, 2020
“I just wanted to get here, I wanted to pound the zone. It’s good to get the first outing with the Nationals under my belt, and I was excited,” Harper told reporters when he spoke on a Zoom call after the Nats’ 9-2 win.
“I wanted to go out there and pound the zone, change speeds, and have fun.”
As you can see above, it probably wasn’t a lot of fun for Yankees’ hitters. Martinez said on Sunday, before the series finale in the nation’s capital, that pitchers with sharp off-speed stuff early will probably be at an advantage against hitters whose timing might isn’t there just yet.
“I honestly believe in this day and age it’s more about location, making pitches,” Martinez explained.
“I think those guys that are successful, like yesterday, throwing strikes, getting ahead of hitters. Harper did a really good job of doing that yesterday, keeping hitters off-balance.
“That’s going to play this year. We talk a lot about the timing of hitters, and catching up to velocity, and that’s really important. So these guys that can throw curveballs for strike one, sliders for strike one, and work ahead of hitters, gives hitters something else to thing about, so yeah, a guy like Harper, [Patrick] Corbin, who throws a lot of sliders, who’s been successful doing it, I think it’s definitely going to play a factor this year.”
Harper said it wasn’t easy for anyone to ramp up quickly over the three-week lead-up to the 60-game season, but the work he put in during the layoff definitely helped him get a head start.
“Everybody’s having to deal with it,” the 31-year-old righty said.
“It’s not ideal, but everybody had their ways that they went about it. I was fortunate that I had a group of guys back home in Tennessee that I was able to stay sharp.
“I was able to pitch multiple times a week, facing hitters, I had catchers, it was good. So, I felt good coming into this summer camp, and I was ready to go.”
While his breaking ball(s) were sharp in his first outing of the season, Harper said he’s able to adjust on nights he doesn’t necessarily have a feel for it (them).
“I can make some adjustments,” he said. “There’s nights obviously your arm feels better, so it’s going to play a little better, you feel like you can locate it a little better. I’ve thrown a lot of them in my career. I know how to — nights it’s off — still make it work, but tonight it felt good, it felt sharp and just try to keep it with that path.”
“There’s nights when it doesn’t feel as good as others,” Harper added, “but you’ve got to adjust, because that’s just how pitching is. You’re not going to feel great every night and you’ve got to learn to pitch when you’re not feeling your best.
“We train year-round for it. So we try to — and we’ve got a great place here, anything that we need we have it, to where we’re ready to go each day, so for the most part I do feel good and ready to attack it.
“But tonight was good, felt good, but if I have to adjust it’s usually an easy adjustment.”