May 25, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
In the midst of Bryce Harper’s torrid May that has taken the baseball world by storm, it’s been easy to forget that the skill set of the Nationals’ phenom goes well beyond hitting the long ball.
Just ask the Philadelphia Phillies, who saw Harper hurt them in more ways than one in the Nats’ 4-1 victory Sunday afternoon. The 22-year-old right fielder didn’t homer, but still went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run and two RBI, including driving in the go-ahead run on a groundout in the fifth inning and a two-out opposite-field bloop hit to bring in an insurance run in the seventh.
“Those will add up,” he said later. “Definitely. Just trying to get those RBI.”
Sure, Harper’s home run totals have drawn and will continue to draw most of the headlines as his breakout season rolls on. But what has impressed his skipper the most is that, even while red hot, he’s shown a consistent, disciplined approach at the plate. Rather than trying to swing for the fences in every at-bat, he’s shown more of a willingness to work deep into the count and excel in key situations.
“The secret of success for him or any other player is two-out basehits with guys in scoring position, getting that guy in from third base with less than two outs,” said manager Matt Williams. “That’s what will make a fantastic season. He accomplished both of those today.”
What’ll also make Harper’s season a success is if he continues to develop as an outfielder, something that showed up once again on Sunday. With the score still 2-1 in the seventh and a man on first base, Harper fielded a single to right and gunned it to second in time for a force out for his club-leading fourth outfield assist of the season.
“I take a lot of pride in my defense,” Harper said. “Being able to get out there every single day and shag and do the thing I need to do, taking those reps, getting some pointers from Denard [Span] and [Jayson Werth] and [outfield coach] Tarasco of course. Just trying to be the best right fielder I can. If I’m not hitting, then I don’t want them to hit either.”
It seems as if even without hitting the ball out of the park, Harper still finds new ways to wow not only the D.C. fanbase, but the other members of the Nats clubhouse. His statistics in Sunday’s boxscore may not look eye-popping on paper, but Sunday’s win was a prime example of how he can help the ball club win in a multitude of ways.
“He’s just becoming the all-around ballplayer,” starter Gio Gonzalez said. “You can see it. He’s a superstar, and he’s been a superstar since he was in high school. It’s basically what we’ve been waiting to see, and he’s bringing it.”
“He’ll hit balls over the fence, but that won’t be the measure of his success,” added Williams. “It will be those little things that he does over the course of a game that allow us to get an extra run, or cut a run down, things of that nature.
“That kind of talent makes him a special player.”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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