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Harper’s patience pays off during historic game

Sep 4, 2015, 12:16 AM EDT

AP

There is perhaps no player in baseball who can wow a stadium full of fans, teammates, opponents and others just by swinging his bat more than Bryce Harper. But what the Nationals’ 22-year-old slugger did Thursday night by never taking that bat off his shoulder actually produced a more awe-inspiring reaction.

The Nationals shellacked the Braves, 15-1, pounding out 18 hits in the most-lopsided victory in club history. Yet Harper contributed none of those hits. Instead, he drew four walks in four plate appearances, scoring four runs. Which proved to be one of the strangest, yet greatest, offensive performances in baseball history.

Only three other players in the last century have ever scored four runs without recording an official at-bat in a game: Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan and Larry Doby. Harper now joins that group of Hall of Famers.

He also didn’t swing at a single one of the 20 pitches the Braves threw him during the game.

“I’ve done it before,” Harper said. “I’ve done it in high school. I’ve done it in college. I did it when I was like 10 years old. It’s part of the game. Like I’ve said numerous times, I’ve got the confidence of everybody on the team to get the job done behind me. And you saw that tonight. That was good.”

Indeed, the reason Harper’s nothing-but-walks outcome was so effective was the fact the three guys hitting behind him in the lineup — Ryan Zimmerman, Clint Robinson, Yunel Escobar — collectively reached base 10 times themselves, with eight hits and 10 total RBI.

And nobody is producing more in Harper’s wake right now than Zimmerman. The veteran slugger followed up Harper’s walks on Thursday with two doubles, a 2-run single and a sacrifice line drive to center.

“That’s why Bryce didn’t swing at a pitch and scored four runs,” manager Matt Williams said. “There’s your proof in the pudding right there.”

And this wasn’t a one-time occurrence. Over his last 11 games, Zimmerman is hitting .405 with seven homers, 23 RBI and a 1.428 OPS, taking full advantage of all those opportunities to hit with Harper on base.

“Usually every team picks one person that they’re not going to let beat them, and obviously Harp is the choice more times than not,” the first baseman said. “I’m proud of him for being patient. That really shows the maturity that he’s come around this year. It’s hard to take those pitches, because everyone wants to get hits and everyone wants to drive in runs. Walks are good, but obviously it takes a lot of patience and discipline to do what he’s doing. I’m proud of him for that.”

Harper still is maintaining a league-best .331 batting average, though he’s been stuck on 31 homers for awhile while sporting a modest RBI total of 79. No matter, though, because his 104 walks (combined with his hits) leave him with a staggering .460 on-base percentage.

Opposing pitchers simply aren’t giving in. Only 38.3 percent of all pitches Harper has seen this season have been in the strike zone, according to Baseball Info Solutions, the lowest rate among all qualifying major-league batters.

How much respect are those pitchers giving Harper? Well, when Barry Bonds drew a record 234 walks in 2004, he still saw 44.4 percent of all pitches thrown to him in the strike zone.

“He’s talked about it a lot, saying: ‘I’m not going to get away from my approach. I’m going to take what they give me,'” Robinson said of Harper. “And that’s what a good hitter does. The good thing about Bryce is, he’s patient. But when they do come in the zone, he does damage on it. He’s got confidence in the rest of our lineup that when he gets on base, we’re going to drive him in. So kudos to him. It’s pretty impressive to see the patience and not getting out of his approach.”

  1. coop202 - Sep 4, 2015 at 12:22 AM

    Certainly helps our run differential… Doesn’t win championships but we’re closer to finishing second in the NL in that than anything else.

    • Doc - Sep 4, 2015 at 7:49 AM

      OBP doesn’t win championships? Huh?

  2. therealjohnc - Sep 4, 2015 at 8:28 AM

    Well, THAT was fun, although I did feel bad for Ross Detwiler. Hey Ross, we’ll always have your “Strasburg start” in the 2012 NLDS!

    Comment thread will be light today, I’d wager, because there’s nothing bad to say after a game like that* and anything good to say is tempered by the situation in the standings. That’s OK, Nats – just win today. As the song says, yesterday is dead and gone and tomorrow’s out of sight – so just get a Curly W tonight!

    *Although sure as I’m typing here, someone will find something bad to say about the game.

    • jd - Sep 4, 2015 at 9:28 AM

      I accept your challenge therealjohn.

      I think Ramos should have been rested after the 6th inning. With 3 catchers on the roster I would have let Severino finish the game.

    • jd - Sep 4, 2015 at 9:28 AM

      Oh,

      And Uggla for Rendon

    • adcwonk - Sep 4, 2015 at 10:20 AM

      Although sure as I’m typing here, someone will find something bad to say about the game.

      Yeah! The Nats left 11 LOB! That stinks! 😉

    • npb99 - Sep 4, 2015 at 1:29 PM

      Ok, I’ll take a shot too. Why the heck can’t they play like this when I attend games!? My watching-the-Nats-in-person winning percentage is terrible.

  3. therealjohnc - Sep 4, 2015 at 8:29 AM

    Did they ever change the official scoring on Trea Turner’s “hit?” Nice to see him get on the board, I guess, but that really was a gift wrapped by Nick Swisher with a bow put on it by the official scorer. But like Ian Desmond says, Turner sure is a fast whippersnapper!

    • Guapo - Sep 4, 2015 at 8:36 AM

      I was really hoping they’d score than an error. I’m sure Turner would rather have a solid hit as his first. Either way…wow…he’s fun to watch. Anything in play with that kid is a potential hit.

      • jd - Sep 4, 2015 at 9:30 AM

        That really wasn’t a hit.

      • Joe Seamhead - Sep 4, 2015 at 9:58 AM

        No, it wasn’t a hit, but he should not have been called out at 1st on his very first MLB AB last week, either, so it all sort of balances out.

  4. micksback1 - Sep 4, 2015 at 8:33 AM

    Now that was fun, I thought I was pitching BP back in the day, LOL

  5. Section 222 - Sep 4, 2015 at 8:33 AM

    Nothing bad to say about last night. MW’s bullpen management last night was masterful. 🙂

  6. nats106 - Sep 4, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    OK, somebody’s got to be the wet blanket, and since Mick is happy, I’ll be it. Beating up on Wisler is one thing. I believe we have Julio Teheran tonight. Now, if we can duplicate that effort against him…….

    • natsjackinfl - Sep 4, 2015 at 9:08 AM

      Julio Teheran whose 4.74 era isn’t scaring anybody these days.

      • natsjackinfl - Sep 4, 2015 at 9:10 AM

        Sorry, 4.62 era but still not scaring anybody.

      • nats106 - Sep 4, 2015 at 10:40 AM

        I don’t know. He had 5 quality starts in a row until he just got waxed by the Yankees. If we can beat up on him, I’ll start believing.

      • natsjackinfl - Sep 4, 2015 at 12:02 PM

        The Nats have faired well against Teheran. Enough so that my Braves friends hate it when he starts against the Nats.

  7. bowdenball - Sep 4, 2015 at 8:40 AM

    It’s really a shame that the team’s failure to live up to high expectations are preventing us from really appreciating Harper’s MVP season. This is the best single season performance any of us have ever seen from a local player, including those of us who were Orioles fans back in the day. If it were 2011 or 2014 or some other season when we weren’t all dragged down by a general sense of disappointment, we’d all be on the edge of our seats every time he came up to bat.

    • nats106 - Sep 4, 2015 at 8:53 AM

      While a lot of people don’t talk about it, I think that everyone appreciates what he is doing this season-I agree that we’ve never seen anything as good as this.

      As for being on the edge of my seat whenever he comes to the plate, I would be if I thought the opposing pitcher was actually going to pitch to him. Having protection in the form of a extraordinarily hot Zimmerman is certainly going to help. I’m thinking that just improve his numbers. Wish Span was there to get on base for him for the RBI totals, but wishes don’t get you runs.

      • bowdenball - Sep 4, 2015 at 9:00 AM

        I kinda wish Matt would bat him second. I’ve seen him come up with two outs and nobody on far too many times. It still works for us when Zim is doing his Miguel Cabrera impersonation, but I’d be curious to see if/how that changes things.

      • jd - Sep 4, 2015 at 9:26 AM

        bowdenball,

        I have been screaming from the roof top that batting Harper 3rd is a waste ever since MW made that move precisely because he keeps coming up in the 1st inning with 2 men out and no one on. The notion that you bat your best hitter 3rd is so ingrained that pretty much everyone believes its gospel.

        I still think that 4th is ideal for Harper. With our current lineup I would do this:

        Werth,Rendon,Escobar,Harper,Zim,Robinson(Taylor),Desmond,Ramos.

      • Section 222 - Sep 4, 2015 at 10:24 AM

        I’ve been in favor or batting Bryce 4th for a long time too. Think about it. If he comes up in the first inning, someone is on base. If instead he leads off the second and gets on, there are no outs instead of two outs for Zim or whoever is behind him.

        On those two shining days this year when our entire lineup was healthy, MW batted him 4th. That was a his plan, but for some reason as soon as Span got hurt again, the idea went out the window. It’s too bad.

        A friend who has followed the Cardinals for years notes that when LaRussa started batting the pitcher 8th it wasn’t to protect a young hitter like Hamilton or Addison Russell as the Cubs and Reds have done this year, but to get Albert Pujols more RBI chances after the first time through the lineup. That would be another way to take advantage of the phenomenon that is Bryce Harper. But to blindly bat him 3rd because “he’s out best hitter and that’s where you best hitter bats” is just as dumb as “he’s our closer, so we can’t use him in a tie game in the 9th on the road.”

      • Section 222 - Sep 4, 2015 at 10:24 AM

        I’ve been in favor or batting Bryce 4th for a long time too. Think about it. If he comes up in the first inning, someone is on base. If instead he leads off the second and gets on, there are no outs instead of two outs for Zim or whoever is behind him.

        On those two shining days this year when our entire lineup was healthy, MW batted him 4th. That was a his plan, but for some reason as soon as Span got hurt again, the idea went out the window. It’s too bad.

        A friend who has followed the Cardinals for years notes that when LaRussa started batting the pitcher 8th it wasn’t to protect a young hitter like Hamilton or Addison Russell as the Cubs and Reds have done this year, but to get Albert Pujols more RBI chances after the first time through the lineup. That would be another way to take advantage of the phenomenon that is Bryce Harper. But to blindly bat him 3rd because “he’s out best hitter and that’s where you best hitter bats” is just as dumb as “he’s our closer, so we can’t use him in a tie game in the 9th on the road.”

      • therealjohnc - Sep 4, 2015 at 11:06 AM

        Sabermetric types will tell you that the best place for your best hitter is actually the #2 spot in your lineup, with a low power/high OBP guy in front of him. The #4 spot is for your second best hitter, followed by the #3 spot then the #5 on out. If you have a pitcher in the lineup and a guy with a low OBP but who is an excellent baserunner, that’s the situation that would call for batting the pitcher #8 – the benefit of the position player interacting with the top of the lineup offsets (barely) the penalty of batting your pitcher more often. Just for fun, and with an awareness that batting orders don’t matter much anyway, I’d have the order:

        Werth/Harper/Rendon/Zimmerman/Escobar/Desmond/Ramos/Pitcher/Taylor

      • Section 222 - Sep 4, 2015 at 11:14 AM

        realjohn, I’ve seen the “best hitter should be No. 2” theory, but usually that’s tempered with “unless he’s a big power hitter, in which case you should/can bat him 4th.” In our case, if Rendon ever gets back to his 5th in MVP self, I’d bat him 2nd and Harper 4th. I’ve also seen analyses that suggest that No. 5 and No. 3 are basically equivalent spots. Zim seems to be thriving at No. 5, and it sure makes other teams pay when they pitch around Bryce. Otherwise, I’m with you.

      • unkyd59 - Sep 4, 2015 at 11:56 AM

        So… My favorite strategy is to field a lineup of guys who all bat .350ish… And keep the line moving! lol

    • adcwonk - Sep 4, 2015 at 10:55 AM

      After last night folks are starting to notice it.

      MLB.com wrote an article about it last night — check it out:

      http://m.nationals.mlb.com/news/article/147139812/bryce-harper-heavy-favorite-for-nl-mvp-award

  8. Theophilus T.S. - Sep 4, 2015 at 9:31 AM

    As much fun as that was to watch, I’m still focused on next season. If they sweep the Braves and the Mets lose two to the Marlins — huge ifs — then they’re four behind going into the Mets series but unlikely to gain more than one game (two out of three). Are the Braves going to lose 11 in a row? Unlikely for even one of the worst teams I’ve seen this year. Are the Nats going to win 7-8 in a row? Eight out of nine? I doubt it very much.

    There are just too many “keys” that have to be reached for this season to end happily. Ray Knight talks about scoring five runs a night but with this pitching staff a 22-23 win month will require, in my mind, 6+. (Comparable to what the Mets have done lately.) Rendon must reach last year’s form. Zimmerman has to stay hot — which would amount to the longest, hottest streak of his career. (Hotter than his 36-game hit streak — or whatever the no. was.)

    • bowdenball - Sep 4, 2015 at 9:47 AM

      They don’t have to be within three games of the Mets after next week’s series. They can easily pull it off if they’re four or even five back after that series. Each team plays 23 games after that, including three head to head to finish the season. If they’re four back by next Wednesday night they’d just need to make up a game a week to get within one game of the Mets heading into that series. Even if they’re five back they’d just need to make up a game every five times they take the field. If they do that they can win the division outright with a sweep or more likely by winning two of three and forcing a one game playoff at Nats Park.

      And of course if they get within five before the series starts and then SWEEP the Mets next week, all bets are off. It would be basically a coin flip considering the pressure that would be on the Mets not to choke, the Mets’ need to rest their starters, and the way our veteran bats have come around.

      Sure, those scenarios are unlikely. But at least it’s possible enough to allow us to dream a little bit. We;’re talking about maybe a one in ten shot, not one in a thousand or something.

    • natsjackinfl - Sep 4, 2015 at 9:52 AM

      Ross against Miller in Saturdays match up is no easy picnic.

      And even Manny Banuelos has pitched a decent game against the Nats.

      No. I much prefer focusing on tonight’s game and finally getting back to 4 games over .500 and worrying about tomorrow, tomorrow

      • bowdenball - Sep 4, 2015 at 10:16 AM

        Of course. Like I said, this is unlikely. Still, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming, or with contemplating a path that might allow that dream to come true. I don’t think the team will play any worse if the fans aren’t focused on one game at a time 😉

      • jd - Sep 4, 2015 at 10:24 AM

        I think it’s Gio against Miller on Saturday and Ross against Banuelos on Sunday.

      • jd - Sep 4, 2015 at 10:31 AM

        It might be fun to predict matchup results and look forward but things have a funny way of not always working out the way we expect them to. Last week we all thought (at least some of us did) that The Phills had a decent chance to win the game Colon was pitching and then he goes out and throws a shutout, the next night was a terrible matchup for Philly with grenade tosser Harang going against Neise, wrong ! the Phills win in a rout and the last game gave us hope because the Phills rookie Nola has looked good. Wrong again.

        For us, Scherzer has had really one sided matchups on paper for the last 3 weeks but we managed to lose most of his games anyway.

        My long winded point is that the best laid plans of mice and men are sometimes just that, plans.

      • natsjackinfl - Sep 4, 2015 at 12:07 PM

        I just checked At Bat and they are posting Ross against Teheran Saturday but they aren’t always 100%.

  9. Karl Kolchak - Sep 4, 2015 at 9:51 AM

    Solis’s performance was not only impressive, but important. As a former 2nd round pick, Solis career so far has been a huge disappointment due to injuries, but if he can stay healthy he just just demonstrated that he has the stuff to be a key left handed arm on this staff.

    • Section 222 - Sep 4, 2015 at 11:04 AM

      I’m as hopeful as anyone that Solis can become a productive pitcher for us, and he actually had a few good outings early this year, but he didn’t demonstrate anything last night. He came in with the score 14-1, against a weak and dispirited lineup. Mop up, garbage time, whatever you want to call it, it wasn’t a test of any sort.

  10. Section 222 - Sep 4, 2015 at 11:05 AM

    Here’s the Statcast on Bryce’s trip around the bases. Top speed of 19.8 mph. Not bad for a guy with a sore butt.

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