Harris pinch at-bat key to Nats comeback

Nationals utility man Willie Harris has not had that many chances to play after battling out of an 0-for-20 slump last Friday against the Orioles. He was a defensive replacement in just one game in Atlanta and came up Thursday against the Mets as a pinch hitter with one out in the ninth.

Harris, who is a free agent at the end of the 2010, certainly has not played the role he did even last season for the Nats. His playing time has diminished to the point that he is currently on pace for only 223 at bats this season, an even 100 less than he had in 2009.

But on Thursday, Harris helped the Nationals start their final homestand before the All-Star break the right way, scoring the winning run in a 2-1 victory over the New York Mets at Nationals Park.

With a mere three starts in nearly three weeks, what does Harris do against one of the nastiest lefthanders in the game? Induces a gigantic free pass to get the winning run on base in the ninth inning.

“I was just looking for a pitch to hit. I know (Pedro) Feliciano is tough on lefties. I knew that going up there. But at the same time, I had my mind set that I was going to battle him. I did not give in to his slider away.

The 3-2 pitch he threw me a really good sinker, it looked like a strike, and it just fell off the table. Fortunately, I did not swing at that one either.”

A batter later, Harris described what he saw on Guzman’s base hit into left center. He went from second to third on the play, hesitating to make sure the ball was not caught by Jesus Feliciano.

“I checked the outfielders before the ball was hit. I knew Zimmerman was coming up after Guzzie. I would rather lose with our guy at the plate then getting thrown out because Guzzie hit the ball really hard, it was kind of right at (Jesus Feliciano). I had my mind set to give Zimmerman a shot right there, that is what I did.”

Manager Jim Riggleman ended his first comment on the game during the post game news conference with credit to Harris for getting things going in the ninth inning.

“That at bat by Willie Harris was tremendous. That was just a great at bat against a tough left hander. Willie grinds that at bat out. Regardless of what his numbers say across the board, he grinds out an at bat out for you. That was huge.”

Harris certainly has to be patient in his current role on this team. He says everyone also has to be patient as well with shortstop Ian Desmond, one of the heroes from Thursday night, who has struggled with a few errors the last couple of weeks.

After not starting the last two games, Desmond came through with a double off the wall and a single that turned into the game tying run in the seventh.

“Desmond is going to be really good in the future. He is good now, but he is going to make those errors because he is young. He is one of the most talented young players that I have seen in the game. I said the same thing about Yunel Escobar (with the Braves) in 2007.

Those guys are going to be good, you just have to be patient with him. We are in a somewhat rebuilding process, but we also want to win right now and he is the guy. He is our guy. I am behind him 100 percent.”

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