Released by the Philadelphia Phillies this summer, when he didn’t make the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training 2.0, 33-year-old, 10-year veteran Josh Harrison didn’t have a long wait before another team came calling.
Harrison signed on with Washington’s Nationals six days after he became a free agent, and in 30 games (19 starts) and 80 plate appearances this season, he’s put up a .271/.338/.429 line (as of Friday morning) with two doubles, three home runs, and 12 RBIs (more on those, and particularly two-out ones, later).
“He’s just as advertised,” manager Davey Martinez, who lobbied for Harrison’s signing this summer, said after a 2 for 2 game against the Mets on Wednesday in which the utility man reached base three times and drove in a run with a two-out RBI single in the fourth.
“He’s fun to be around,” Martinez added. “He understands the game. He’s a true constant every single day.
“You never have to tell him to be ready. He’s always ready, no matter what. He’s always ready for anything, any situation.”
Hamstring and hand injuries limited Harrison’s availability over the past few seasons, but he was healthy this year, and excited about the opportunity he found in the nation’s capital.
“You never know where you’re going to end up in this game, and I’m blessed,” Harrison said in a Zoom call on Thursday.
“I was fortunate enough to find a situation like this when it didn’t work out with Philly, and I honestly couldn’t ask for a better place, a better group of guys. Guys have been banged up, but at the end of day, guys are showing up, playing, and at the end of the day that’s all you can ask for, is that the guy next to you gives all they got.
“As I mentioned, man, I’m blessed, very fortunate to be here and I don’t take it lightly.”
“I love those kind of guys,” his manager said. “We were able — [Nats’ GM] Mike [Rizzo] and I talked, he was free, we were able to get him here.”
“He fits in,” Martinez added at another point in his post game comments on Thursday night.
“He said what he likes about this team is we try to win every game. And nobody gives up, nobody quits, we’re always in every game, so I hope that we sit back at the end of this year when we start evaluating these things, and what we need, for me he’s somebody we need.
“I’d love to have him [back]. He’s great with the young kids, so there will definitely be some conversations about him this winter.”
Harrison did struggle to stay healthy in 2018 and ‘19 though, after playing an average of 129 games a year over the previous four seasons (2014-17) with the Pittsburgh Pirates, for whom he’d debuted in the majors in 2011, two years after the Bucs acquired him from the Chicago Cubs.
“He went through and battled some injuries and he came back — we watched him when he was with the Phillies,” Martinez said. “Had a good Spring Training and didn’t make the team.
“I sat down with Rizz and we both chatted and I said here’s a guy that really could fit and help us.
“Rizz pulled the trigger and we got him here. And like I said, he’s been awesome. I can’t say enough positives about what he does and what he brings. You saw that tonight.
“Here’s a guy that battles, gets his hits, drives in a run for us, and a guy that will get on base.
“He got hit in the foot today and just to watch him high-step it to first base, man, his teammates started cheering for him, so it was pretty awesome.”
Harrison was asked after the game if he was happy to stay healthy in this 60-game season to show potential suitors (if he doesn’t return to D.C.) that he can still go when he’s able to stay on the field.
“To be honest that was never really my concern,” Harrison said.
“I knew given that being healthy that there’s 30 teams out there, somebody will be happy to have me and whoever that is I’m glad to help. If it doesn’t work somewhere there’s always someone else who can use you, and for me, I’m going to play as long as I can. Injuries are a part of the game. That’s how I got my first shot of being called up in the big leagues.
“But it’s how you overcome those things. Nothing has ever been handed to me. And I never expect it to, whether I’m fully healthy or not, I’m going to play this game as hard as I can, have fun, and do it as long as I can. I love my family, I’m going to be with them as soon as I can, but they also understand that this is once in a lifetime and for a lot of us we want to enjoy it as much as we can.”
Harrison has made the most of the opportunity the Nationals gave him, and he’s managed to make the most he can out of two-out opportunities at the plate this season, with seven RBIs (of his 12 total RBIs) in two-out at bats.
With runners in scoring position and two outs, he’s 5 for 12 (.417/.417/.417). What’s behind his success in those situations?
“Ready to hit,” he said. “The past couple years have been — I don’t like to say frustrating, but I mean, injury-wise, things I can’t control, you try to play through things, but I’m not one to toot my own horn, but at the same time, I’ve been in this game long enough and been presented with those opportunities, and I’d like to say that my track record speaks for itself, and in clutch situations I’ve come through, and it’s just a matter or not treating [the at bats] any different than nobody on base, you want to get a good pitch and not miss it.”
With runners in scoring position overall, Harrison has a .282/.327/.381 line in his career, and he has a .272/.339/.370 line with two outs and RISP in 381 career plate appearances, so he’s not wrong.
With three games left in the 2020 campaign, Harrison said that he wants to finish strong as his 10th MLB campaign wraps up.
“Granted [Wednesday] night we found out we were eliminated, but at the end of the day,” Harrison said, “there’s still some games to play, and coming from a guy that’s missed some time due to injuries, I play every game like it’s my last, and regardless of the situation, you know somebody that would always love to be in the situation that we’re in. Playing whether you’re playing for the playoffs or not, there’s still three games, and you want to finish strong because at the end of the day that’s all that matters.”