So, about that split grip Josh Harrison has been using at the plate?
“I’m surprised it took you guys so long to ask me,” Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said in a Zoom call with reporters last week.
“It helps get your top hand through the baseball a lot easier,” Martinez explained.
“I played with Miguel Cairo who used to do it, Shawon Dunston did it when I played with him with the Cubs, but it keeps your top hand, trying to get above the ball.
“He says he’s so bottom hand dominant that he started doing that split grip and it helps him get on top of the baseball, just because he can split his hands a little bit.”
How long has Harrison being doing it?
“He’s been doing it for a while,” Martinez said. “I noticed it last year a little bit, it wasn’t so pronounced, this year he’s really a lot wider, but it seems to be working.”
“It works for me,” Harrison said after a 1 for 5 game against the New York Mets in Citi Field on Saturday afternoon. “What works for me is for me. But a lot of it comes from previous experience the past couple years. I‘ve had some hand issues, a couple broken hands, torn ligament, and I just — you know working my way back sometimes we try to go back to pre-injury, and sometimes you got to adapt to how your body is, especially as years pass, what you did three or four years ago may not be necessarily how you approach it today.
“Had a lot of time having some injuries and redoing things and kind of recalibrating my whole body, and that’s kind of what feels comfortable to me.”
The injuries he mentioned limited the 11-year veteran to just 261 games between 2017-2019, over which the veteran utility man put up a combined .250/.306/.384 line, but over the last two seasons in the Nationals’ lineup, a healthy 32-33-year-old Harrison has put up numbers more in line with what he’s done in his career (.294/.368/.429 over 44 games and 136 plate appearances heading into Sunday’s series finale in Citi Field), or slightly better, actually.
Martinez moved Harrison to the leadoff spot in the Nats’ lineup for the second and the third games with the New York Mets this weekend, hoping to take advantage of a hot start to the season for the infielder, who was named the starting second baseman before Opening Day, only to land on the COVID-IL and in quarantine for close to two weeks.
“He’s swinging the bat well,” Martinez said, “so we pushed him up in the lineup, and he’s a guy who puts the ball in play. So hopefully we get him in the leadoff spot, he gets on.”
Harrison said it really didn’t matter to him where he hits, especially since the leadoff man is not guaranteed to lead off more than once a game.
“To be honest, I think in my career, I’ve hit everywhere except fourth, and that’s going back to Pittsburgh, Detroit, so I’m used to having to move around,” Harrison said, “but honestly, just because you lead off one game, that might just be for the first inning, your next at bats might not be any more leadoffs. But at the same time it is a little different, because you get to come to the plate a little bit more.
“I guess you could say that I like hitting up at the top, but I’ve hit fifth, I’ve hit sixth, seventh, I’ve hit third. Bottom line I just like being in the lineup.”
He doesn’t really change anything about his approach based on where he’s hitting either.
“No, a lot of it depends on the preparation. It’s a little different when you do it every day, there are different things you can do,” Harrison said.
“Today, going to the leadoff spot I didn’t want to change anything, but at the same time still wanted to be a table-setter.”
Harrison started his second season in D.C. with a streak of 30-straight plate appearances in which he avoided striking out, tied for the third-longest streak in Nationals’ franchise history (via @NationalsPR):
1. Paul Lo Duca – 54 plate appearances – 3/30/2008 to 5/06/2008
2. Yunel Escobar – 33 plate appearances – 4/06/2015 to 4/14/2015
T3. Steve Lombardozzi – 30 plate appearances – 4/01/2013 to 4/23/2013
T3. Josh Harrison – 30 plate appearances – 4/12/2021 to 4/20/2021
What was behind the K-avoidance early? He’d struck out four times in 45 PAs before Sunday afternoon’s game.
“Just slowing everything down,” has been the key, Harrison said.
“The past couple days I kind of got out of my rhythm a little bit, rushing, and that’s part of baseball, you’re going to go through stretches, but the thing is to make those stretches shorter as opposed to going on for 5-10 games or whatever. I felt better as the day went on today. My last three at bats I even felt — you know a little rushed my first couple at bats, but that’s part of baseball, just because you felt good yesterday, you might have to make an adjustment today based off of how your body is feeling. It’s something that we all try to lock in when we’re at the plate, correcting our move and making the right move, but it’s baseball. It’s a tough game.”
And what was going right for him when he was putting the ball in play during that stretch without strikeouts?
“Honestly, my strikeouts have always been on me,” Harrison said.
“I know if I get to my hitting position where I want to be, get in the right spot, I’m going to lay off those pitches.
“Some days you get there, some days you don’t and that’s the beauty of baseball. They call it a game of adjustments for that sole reason, and just getting back to that, and today my last three at bats I felt like I’m getting back to where I was not even a week ago, but it’s part of baseball. You take each at bat for what it is and you understand — okay, I did this, I didn’t do that. Okay, I chased a pitch, why did I chase that pitch? A lot of it comes from your pre-set-up or your move, and I was not far off, but I could tell something was off, and I went in the cage, and I’m ready to go.”