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Washington Nationals’ Josh Harrison makes the most of a start in left field

A versatile fielder, Josh Harrison may have found a home on a veteran Nationals team.

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals
Josh Harrison started in left field for the Nationals on Tuesday and made the most of it, with a homer and a sacrifice fly in a 5-3 win over the New York Mets.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals might have gotten themselves a bargain when they signed Josh Harrison as a free agent a few days after the start of the abbreviated 2020 season.

A seven-year veteran and two-time National League All-Star who earned $10 million in 2018, Harrison was cut loose from Philadelphia after signing in December for $100,000. With 21-year-old star Juan Soto out of action following a positive COVID test, the Nats needed a versatile fielder with some pop in his bat, and the 33-year-old utility man fit the bill.

After going 0-for-4 as a designated hitter in a loss to Toronto, Harrison was Davey Martinez’s starting left fielder in Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the New York Mets, while Soto continues to work himself into game shape.

Martinez no doubt knew that the righty-hitting Harrison was 4-for-9 in his career against Mets’ lefty starter Stephen Matz, and in his first at-bat on the second inning, Harrison made his manager look like a genius. After working Matz into a 3-1 count, Harrison got a hold of a sinker and deposited it high into the left field stands for a 2-0 Nats’ lead. Harrison didn’t need much indoctrination into the Nationals’ home run dugout dance parties, though, putting down some smooth moves after his first homer as a National...

An inning later against Matz, with the bases loaded, Harrison again hit the ball hard to left, this time for a sacrifice fly that made it 4-0. Batting in the fifth with two on against Mets right-hander Paul Sewald, he hit the ball sharply to third for a force-out at second but hustled down the line to beat the double play relay, then stole second without much of a throw ahead of Carter Kieboom’s walk. That sequence forced Sewald from the game.

From 2011-2017, Harrison acquired a reputation in Pittsburgh as a contact hitter with extra hustle and occasional power. After he hit a career-high 16 home runs in 2017, his career seemed on an upward trajectory. One of those homers was the first extra-inning, walk-off homer to break a no-hitter by Dodger Rich Hill. But in September 2017 and again early in 2018, Harrison was hit by pitches in his left hand, breaking the same bone each time. He never fully recovered, it seemed, and he finished 2018 at .250/.293/.363, his lowest averages since 2014, when he bounced back and forth between the minors and the major leagues.

After more than six seasons in Pittsburgh, the Pirates released him, and he struggled through an injury-riddled 2019 season with Detroit.

Perhaps a role as a utility player on a Washington team with other versatile players like Starlin Castro and Asdrubal Cabrera is what Harrison needs to revive his career.