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Showstopper

May 8, 2015, 11:40 PM EST

AP

The quotes from teammates about him — “Don’t touch him, you might get third-degree burns” — are ludicrous. The records being dug up by Elias and on Baseball-Reference — “He’s the first player in D.C. baseball history to do this” — are telling. And the balls soaring off his bat are leaving everybody watching in person and on TV with jaws agape.

What Bryce Harper has done over the last 48 hours rivals anything seen in these parts in a really, really long time. With five home runs and 10 RBI in his last two games, the young slugger has elevated the Nationals back to the .500 mark while elevating himself to a designation that finally feels commensurate with the attention he has always received: One of the best players in baseball.

“He’s unbelievable, a showstopper,” left-hander Gio Gonzalez said. “When he goes up to bat, everybody stops what they’re doing, whether eating popcorn or hot dogs. He’s out there pausing time. It’s fun to watch.”

If you thought the 31,288 who witnessed Harper’s latest heroics during the Nationals’ 9-2 thumping of the Braves on Friday night were having fun, imagine how the 22-year-old outfielder has felt through this torrid stretch at the plate.

“Like I’ve been saying: That’s the way I need to be,” he said. “If I’m healthy, if I’m going the right way, that’s what you’re going to get out of me. That’s just how I am.”

If you’re disturbed by those words, if you don’t like the confident tone being espoused, you’ll probably never like Harper. He was named in one preseason poll the most overrated player in baseball, perhaps in part because of the way he has talked about himself and his team, and that rubs some people the wrong way.

But if you’ve followed him closely since he was drafted five years ago, since he made his major-league debut three years ago and since he began taking his game to new heights last fall, you know this is the genuine Harper. There’s no phoniness to him. He shows you exactly who he is. And who he is, is a supremely confident and talented ballplayer who is only now reaching his full potential.

“You gotta remember how young he is,” left fielder Jayson Werth cautioned. “I think he’s got a long way to go. He’s got big aspirations. I know us guys in here have big aspirations for him. He has a lot of pressure on him. It’s good to see him play the way he’s been playing lately, and just the way he’s been going about it, too. It’s a lot of fun to watch. It’s a lot of fun to be around.”

Indeed, part of what has made Harper’s start to this season so impressive is the fact he’s doing it as a 22-year-old. He’s now tied with Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier for the NL lead with 10 homers while still leading the majors with 26 walks.

Go ahead and do the extrapolation. Harper is on pace for 54 home runs and 140 walks. The only men in the century-and-a-half history of this great game to do that can be identified by last name alone: Bonds, Ruth, McGwire.

Of course there is a very long way to go, and of course it may be asking too much for Harper to continue at this pace. But the mere fact he is doing something that allows for a comparison like that speaks volumes.

“I’m just trying to go about my business the right way and keeping my same routine every single day,” he said. “That’s all I want to do. I want to come in, I want to play every single day, I want to work hard and help this team win every single night.”

That Harper’s recent performance has played a direct role in victories for the Nationals is most significant. Winners in eight of their last 10 games, they’re now back to the .500 mark and back within 3 1/2 games of first place in the NL East.

So when, for the second time in as many games, Harper hopped up the steps in the Nationals dugout and acknowledged a stadium that wouldn’t sit down and shut up until he emerged, he was accepting on behalf of his entire team.

“This whole team should be getting a curtain call the way we’re playing right now,” he said.

Yes, the Nationals as a whole deserved plenty of praise Friday night. Danny Espinosa homered twice himself, after all. Werth clubbed his first homer of the season. Gonzalez cruised through seven strong innings on the mound.

But none of those performances were history-making. Harper, on the other hand, became the first player in franchise history (dating back to the 1969 Expos) to hit five homers in two games. He’s also the first player in D.C. baseball history (1901-’71, 2005-present) to do it.

What does he think of that?

“Hopefully I can hit two more tomorrow,” Harper said.

That response drew laughs from those assembled around him at his locker, but not because it was a ludicrous idea. No, given the way things are going right now, nobody would be surprised if that actually happens Saturday afternoon.

Least of all, Bryce Harper himself.

  1. Eric - May 9, 2015 at 12:03 AM

    “He’s out there pausing time.”

    What a great line. Great to hear his teammates singing his praises so enthusiastically. What an amazing run of baseball we’ve been treated to these last ~10 days.

    Go Harper…GO NATS!!!

  2. TimDz - May 9, 2015 at 12:07 AM

    That second tater by Bryce…..damn…..

    Just.Damn.

  3. Sonny G 10 - May 9, 2015 at 12:47 AM

    Oh how I hate missing these games…sigh!

  4. BatBoy - May 9, 2015 at 2:00 AM

    GYFNG !

  5. David Proctor - May 9, 2015 at 2:45 AM

    I don’t expect Harper to hit 50 homers and I don’t expect him to walk 150 times. Those paces won’t continue. But he doesn’t have to give back the homers he’s already hit or the walks he’s already drawn. If he walks at only his career pace from this point on, you’re looking at about 85 walks. 85 walks would’ve been 7th in all of baseball last year. That’s if he completely reverts back to his career numbers, which I don’t think will be the case.

    For the homers, he’s already hit 10. If he hits homers at his career pace (one every six games), he would finish with about 31 homers (assuming 155 games played). I think he could top that rather easily based on health and improved approach.

    The point being, he’s probably going to regress partially in certain areas, but the improvements from previous years are real and if he plays a full season, the numbers will be monstrous.

    He’s also been worth 4 defensive runs saved in the OF already. The baserunning could use some work, but one step at a time.

    • laddieblahblah - May 9, 2015 at 6:36 AM

      “…but one step at a time.”

      You call this a “step?” It’s a month’s worth of power hitting for most major leaguers, and then some.

    • Section 222 - May 9, 2015 at 10:31 AM

      He doesn’t have to give back the homers or walks he already has. Nice way to look at it. As you point out, even if he regresses, he’ll have an MVP caliber season. Just like we’ve hoped since he broke into the league. The time has come, and it’s thrilling to watch.

  6. Drew - May 9, 2015 at 3:11 AM

    35 from the century mark.
    690 from Henry Aaron.

  7. BatBoy - May 9, 2015 at 5:07 AM

    GYFBG!!

  8. laddieblahblah - May 9, 2015 at 6:34 AM

    According to MLB he’s the youngest player in the history of the game to hit 5 in 2 games. Mantle was 24 before he hit 3 in one game.

    And remember, he played throughout most of 2013 with a painful knee injury which required surgical repair in the 2013-2014 off-season. He started 2014 hampered by that surgically repaired knee when he tore a ligament in his left thumb, which had to be surgically repaired, as well. This is the first season since he was a 19-year-old rookie that he has been relatively healthy.

    Extrapolations for that kid are useless. No one knows what a kid with that kind of talent can do, when healthy. We are going to find out, so put the slide rules away – utterly useless.

    Maybe even more significant for the Nats’ season was Jayson Werth’s bomb to deep LF, which he punctuated with another laser to left in his next AB. If Werth has got his swing and his power bat back to where it belongs, then the Nats are going to score a heckuva lot of runs. Three days off is about what it usually takes to receive and recover from a cortisone shot. Just wondering.

    And another 2 for 6 night from the bench, the 2 being Espinosa’s 3rd and 4th HRs. Both of them were FBs breaking away from Danny on the outer half. He has hit 3 of those for taters from the left side, already, this year. They have been throwing so many of them at Danny he looks like he is just sitting on them. The 2nd time he just jumped all over the first pitch, to that very same place. And all he is doing is taking what they are giving him and driving them to LF. The guy has learned to be a hitter, not just a wild-swinger.

    Time to consider Desmond for the bench instead of Danny, with Espinosa at SS and Uggla at 2nd, next time they face a lefty. Desmond is still stuck in cave man mode, and is simply not the hitter that Espinosa has now become.

    • rayvil01 - May 9, 2015 at 7:27 AM

      “Desmond is still stuck in cave man mode, and is simply not the hitter that Espinosa has now become.”

      That is some comment. The first part is inarguable. The second is arguably true and definitely amazing. Who’d have thunk it.

      Biggest “concern” after this game is that Espinosa now goes into Homer-or-K mode. He’s had a history of that after connecting on one. Now with 2 in one game, he’s going to be tempted to swing out of his shoes.

      • stoatva - May 9, 2015 at 7:38 AM

        +1 to your +1

      • laddieblahblah - May 9, 2015 at 7:39 AM

        “Who’d have thunk it.”

        Not I, not in a million years, but seeing is believing. Note that Danny has lofted several shots from the left side all the way to the LF wall, or, at least, to the warning track, earlier this season, but yesterday was the first time he was able to clear that wall – twice. He has been working on that for weeks, and it is now paying off. Didn’t swing hard, either, just barreled them up and let the wood do the work.

        He was in cave man mode from the right side, however, in his prior 2 ABs, and had been over-swinging, IMO, ever since Desmond hit that 2-run shot to CF against the Fish a couple of days ago. He backslides, for sure, but he can correct himself (or maybe MW has advised him to play within himself). He seems to have more plate discipline from the left side, than from the right.

        He is still a work in progress, but he is making progress. Can’t say the same for Desmond.

      • Joe Seamhead - May 9, 2015 at 9:20 AM

        Great point about Espy’s history of swinging for the fences after hitting a couple out, rayvil01. I’d like to see him emulate more Yunel on his hitting approach and less from Desi.

      • unkyd59 - May 9, 2015 at 10:07 AM

        @laddie, re: Desi… As a charter booster of Desi’s, it’s becoming difficult to argue your points wrt choosing between him and Spinner. An ancillary concern, however, is Desi’s $$value to the club. If he hits close to 20 HRs again this year, and plays to his career level of defense, that QO is there for the making, somebody else will give him big$$, and we’ll have a high pick to play with, in ’16. Or, we could concievably trade him at the deadline, for a more relevant player, or decent prospect. If he’s relegated to the bench, doesn’t he prolly walk, with no compensation? I guess you’d have to project the WAR for those two, to gauge whether using Danny FT is worth losing the potential comp for Desi… Am I making sense?

    • Section 222 - May 9, 2015 at 11:12 AM

      Espi’s 2nd homer was on a 1-0 pitch. It was a fastball tailing down and away. The first pitch he hit was higher, but also a FB on the outer half. That was a more compact swing. The second homer was his usual looping swing, but he connected.

  9. virginiascopist - May 9, 2015 at 6:46 AM

    “Time to consider Desmond for the bench instead of Danny, with Espinosa at SS and Uggla at 2nd, next time they face a lefty.”

    I agree and, interestingly enough, it looks like that lefty COULD be former National Robbie Ray,

    • thelatencn - May 9, 2015 at 7:41 AM

      I wouldn’t change last night’s lineup any time soon. Now, if and when Rendon returns, and if Danny is still hitting like he is now, and Desi is still hitting like he is now…then you’ve got a decision to make. This much I’d bet on: if Danny continues to put up anything close to the numbers he has so far this year, he’s our 2016 shortstop.

      • Joe Seamhead - May 9, 2015 at 9:22 AM

        Maybe, on the possibility of Danny at short, but I honestly think that Yunel will be at short next year.

    • Presidents Race Fan - May 9, 2015 at 10:21 AM

      Ha. #CommentsFrom2011

    • therealjohnc - May 9, 2015 at 11:05 AM

      Any lineup that has Uggla in it instead of Desmond is fundamentally flawed. Not only is Desmond obviously a better defender AND a better hitter, but Desmond is a long term leader on this club. The clubhouse impact of such a move is a roll of the dice the Nats don’t have to make.

      Further, for those wanting to bench Desmond for Uggla against LHP obviously haven’t noticed that Uggla has reverse platoon splits – he hits RHP better than LHP.

    • Guapo - May 9, 2015 at 12:12 PM

      They didn’t bench Desmond when he was booting balls on a daily basis. He’s the golden boy. The org protects him from the top on down, to the detriment of the team.

  10. stoatva - May 9, 2015 at 7:39 AM

    Harper against Teheran. Can’t believe I’ll be at work.

  11. Whynat - May 9, 2015 at 7:43 AM

    I was sitting in a bar last night watching the game next to a non-fan. Early on he says “this is like watching paint dry”. I start to point out to him what he should be watching for. Then Ramos misses that tag play and I shout “Damn, he never catches those!!” (I know sometimes he does). Non-fan: “If he can’t catch, why do they call him the catcher?”

    • Joe Seamhead - May 9, 2015 at 9:25 AM

      Made me chuckle Whynat. My wife, who is a pretty astute fan, always says “catchers are supposed to catch the ball.”

  12. natsfan1a - May 9, 2015 at 8:25 AM

    Nice win, Nats. Very nice. As we were watching on the tv last night, I told my husband that I hoped Bryce saves a couple for Sunday, when we’ll be there.

    On another note, that was great footage of the flyover in the early innings. We were down on the Mall to watch it. Awesome.

    Oh, and new 7th inning stretch song = “Time Warp.” You’re welcome.

    “He’s out there pausing time.”

  13. natsfan1a - May 9, 2015 at 8:34 AM

    Fredi G on Harper: “I think going forward, maybe tomorrow we’ll tell him what’s coming, maybe we’ll get him out of his hot streak.”

    ===

    Okay, Bravos catcher. Here are your lines:

    “Charlie, here comes the deuce. And when you speak of me, speak well.”

    You’re welcome.

    • Doc - May 9, 2015 at 9:36 AM

      Perfect quote.

      Freddy G. and his Braveless crew have no other pitching strategy to try!

  14. #4 - May 9, 2015 at 8:37 AM

    My takeaway from last night… why does Espinosa ever bat right-handed? He should forget about batting from that side and hit left-handed against all typs of pitching.

    • Joe Seamhead - May 9, 2015 at 9:27 AM

      Somebody pay #4.

    • laddieblahblah - May 9, 2015 at 10:00 AM

      “… why does Espinosa ever bat right-handed?”

      You don’t know? Because even with his undisciplined approach from the right side Espinosa is a lifetime .280 hitter from over there. The correct and much more relevant question is why doesn’t he try the same approach from the right side that is working for him from the left side?

      He might be a .300+ hitter from the right side using the same patient, disciplined approach there, as is working for him from the left side. Hi sRH swing does not have any loop to it, is much more level through the hitting zone, shorter to the ball, more compact, and he makes contact much more often from that side than he has from the left. If he would improve on his already effective RH numbers, as much as he is improving on his LH numbers, there would not be any doubt left as to who could better fill the SS position for the Nats.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 9, 2015 at 10:12 AM

        Ummm, Laddie?

        “It’s a JOKE, son! A joke!”

  15. natsfan1a - May 9, 2015 at 8:37 AM

    Wait, make that:

    Okay, Bravos catcher. Here are your lines:

    “Bryce, here comes the deuce. And when you speak of me, speak well.”

    Dang, I hate people who get the words wrong.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - May 9, 2015 at 10:10 AM

      Need McCann back to yell “I gave you a gift and you’re showing up my pitcher?! RUN, dummy!”

    • Guapo - May 9, 2015 at 12:14 PM

      Women don’t get wooly, they get weary.
      And no one has stress, she;s wearing a dress.

  16. Theophilus T.S. - May 9, 2015 at 9:03 AM

    Much made of Espinosa’s new,, less complicated, more efficient swing. Less made of Harper’s less violent attacks on the ball — although Santangelo commented on “less rage.” Harper’s second HR looked like batting practice. See the ball, hit the ball.

  17. sec105rowwseat28 - May 9, 2015 at 9:27 AM

    If he keeps this up, Harper will soon qualify for one of those bizarre statues outside the Home Plate Gate (multiple mohawks, perhaps?) and exclusion from the Nats Park Ring of Honor because he’s not in the Hall of Fame like those ex-Expos who never played a day in DC.

  18. Joe Seamhead - May 9, 2015 at 9:30 AM

    sec105 said: (multiple mohawks, perhaps?)

    You all are killing me this morning! Love the mornings after the night before when the Nats win!

  19. npb99 - May 9, 2015 at 10:05 AM

    What a performer this kid is. And he can do it in the post-season too.

  20. npb99 - May 9, 2015 at 10:12 AM

    Who among the NI posters predicted that Espy would be second in the team in HRs right now? Not me, that’s for sure.

  21. Section 222 - May 9, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    I ate my humble pie with a side of crow last night, but the calls for Espi to replace Desi at SS are way, way premature, as is the certainty that Espi has turned a corner, particularly batting LH. I’m going to take this day by day.

    • npb99 - May 9, 2015 at 11:15 AM

      Agreed, we don’t know what happens next, but no denying Espy has been a plus to the team this spring.

    • masterfishkeeper - May 9, 2015 at 12:19 PM

      Yep. I’ve always like Espinosa and am very happy to see him succeeding this season, but we’re still dealing with a SSS. Let’s hope it continues, but I’m not putting him on the all -star team yet, or even starting in September.

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