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Washington Nationals’ Josh Harrison makes first start in center field and it’s grand...

Josh Harrison waited a long time to get a chance to play center field.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals
Josh Harrison hit his first career grand slam in his first career start in center field to help the Washington Nationals beat the Baltimore Orioles 12-7 on Saturday.
Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Harrison hasn’t paid much mind this season to where he hits in the lineup or what he does to help the Washington Nationals win games.

So when he hit his first career grand slam in his first career start in center field in the Nats’ 12-9 win over the Baltimore Orioles, he was happy to acknowledge that he had fulfilled some career goals.

“I haven’t hit for the cycle and I haven’t hit a grand slam,” the 11th-year veteran remembers thinking, just last week, as teammate Yan Gomes was going for the cycle.

So when he came up with one out in the third inning against Orioles’ starter Bruce Zimmermann, the 33-year-old Harrison recognized the opportunity.

“It’s something as a player you know if you hit one, and it’s taken me a while. But the first one was a good one, and the right time,” said the 11th-year veteran.

The Nats were down 6-1, but Zimmermann was clearly on the ropes, having given up six hits to that point, and loaded the bases by walking the free-swinging Kyle Schwarber.

Zimmermann served Harrison a steady stream of changeups, and he left the the fourth one, a 1-2 pitch, over the middle of the plate. Harrison recognized the mistake and punished it, sending it just over the fence in right center, close to the deepest part of the ballpark.

Harrison called it a momentum shift.

“It was fun,” he said.

“You never know when it’s going to come. And given the situation of the game with us being down.”

Harrison was playing center field because starter Victor Robles is day-to-day with a sprained ankle. Davey Martinez wanted Harrison in the lineup against a left-hander, especially because he had hit safely in seven of his past eight games.

“We want to keep his bat in the lineup,” said the skipper. “He swung the bat well yesterday. We’ve got a left-handed pitcher today that’s a little bit tougher on left-handed hitters, and I thought it would be a good day to put him out in center field.

“When we started the season, we penciled in to have that versatility with him.”

Harrison relished the new experience.

“I’ve been waiting to get out there for years,” he said. “I’ve done it in Spring Training. It’s a little different, but I’ve got enough experience at all those spots that I was just excited to be able to step in there in a pinch, and if they need me more they know I can do it.”

Andrew Stevenson replaced Harrison in center field on a double switch in the fifth, but Harrison’s performance showed the versatility the Nats need from him this season.

“He understands his role,” said Martinez. “He’s a guy that I know we can put him anywhere because he works at it. So I’m very comfortable with him out there.”