Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper made two huge defensive plays in a span of five batters Friday night that severely crippled the Phillies' opportunity for big innings.
The Nationals ended up downing the Phillies 6-1.
Harper grew up playing catcher with his brother, Bryan, as a left-handed pitcher.
At the College of Southern Nevada, Harper was the backstop for a playoff team.
Now as a left fielder in his second season in the majors, he put his powerful arm on display from near the outfield wall. It is a nice complement to his big bat.
On Friday night, he nabbed Freddy Galvis and Carlos Ruiz on what would normally be every-day doubles. Harper's throws to Steve Lombardozzi turned possible extra-base hits into momentum-killing outs at second.
"When I was catching, I loved to throw," Harper said. "I loved to backdoor guys. Throw guys out. Show off my arm a little bit. Now it is a little bit more of picking my spots and not throwing to third when I don't have to. Not throwing to the plate when I don't have to. Trying to save as much of my arm as I can and throw some guys out when I can."
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has seen the progress Harper has made on defense in such a short time. Gone are the early issues where he would use his arm to airmail the cutoff man or try the impossible throw home to get a guy out, ignoring the runner who got an extra base behind his throw.
"He has worked hard on (throwing guys out)," Zimmerman said. "He hasn't played outfield for that long. People forget that he caught a lot growing up and outfield was a relatively new thing a couple years ago. People think you just put guys out there and they become good outfielders. But he has worked at it. He has come a long way. Tonight those plays are a huge part of the game."
The two outfield assists helped Harper reach 12 on the season. But he still believes he has a way to go to improve his defense in left field.
"I don't know if I am that good, just trying to get better every single day," Harper said. "I have a lot of support from (first base coach and former major league outfielder) Tony Tarasco, him helping me out, trying to get my angles right and trying to be as accurate as I can and show off my arm a little bit when I can."
Harper broke down each throw and said he thought if his throw on the Kyle Kendrick base hit was not cut off by shortstop Ian Desmond, he might have had a hat trick of assists on the night. Kendrick's hit came right after Galvis was caught at second.
"The one, I slid on down the line I didn't know if I had an opportunity at all," Harper said of the Galvis hit. "But I just tried to throw it as hard as I can and let Lombo do the rest. Ruiz, I wasn't sure if I had an opportunity with that one, either. It deflected off the wall the best it could. I put it up there for Lombo. I think that (the) Kendrick one, he probably would have been out at second base."
After the second outfield assist, he appeared to turn to center fielder Denard Span and slap his hands together almost in surprise that he got the out.
"I like throwing guys out," Harper said. "I really do. I get fired up because it doesn't happen often. Of course, homers don't happen often but it is a little adrenalin rush throwing guys out."