One thing the Nats want Harper to work on

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Greetings from the Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World, where the Nationals will take on the Braves in about an hour or so.

I can neither confirm nor deny reports that I started crying tears of joy when I drove past the “Happiest Place on Earth” sign on my way in.

Right-handed flamethrower Henry Rodriguez got some work in during in an intrasquad game yesterday, and after getting a chance to rest today and tomorrow, he’ll likely make his Grapefruit League debut Thursday when the Nationals host the Astros.

Minor league shortstop Zach Walters, the player the Nats acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Jason Marquis trade last July, made the defensive play of last night’s game in the bottom of the eighth, diving to his left to snare a sharply-hit grounder up the middle, then hopping to his feet and gunning out the runner.

Nats manager Davey Johnson revealed that Walters, who hit .300 with nine home runs and 56 RBIs in between Low Single-A and High Single-A ball last year, played last night while battling an injury to his right hand. The injury isn’t thought to be serious, however.

Walters has been pretty impressive thus far in spring, and I’ll have more on him tomorrow.

Through three Grapefruit League games, Bryce Harper is hitting .571, playing strong defense in right field and hustling on every single play.

But there’s one part of Harper’s game the Nationals would like him to work on: not hitting first base so hard when he runs through the bag.

Yes, that’s a legitimate request. And if that’s the biggest issue with Harper right now, he’s in pretty good shape.

The Nats are concerned that Harper could injure his leg if he continues to pound the first base bag after sprinting down the line, and so they’ve asked him to make a concerted effort to ease up on that final lunge at the base.

“That last step really goes overboard,” Johnson said.

“They always say something about that, because if I hit it too hard, I could pop my hip or pop my knee or something like that,” Harper said. “I understand that. I’m trying to work on that. I’ve always done it, I’ve always hit the bags hard, but if I can break that habit, it’d be good so I wouldn’t get hurt. I’m trying. We’ll see.”

Harper says he’s been hitting the first base bag with some force for a while, but says that going through the bag a little softer and “not having to stomp” might even make him a little faster.

Known for his tape-measure home runs, Harper has been showing his speed so far this spring, beating out infield hits and making hard, aggressive turns around first after his singles. He’s been clocked from home to first in 4.2 seconds, which is pretty impressive considering his size and the force with which he swings.

That’s an attitude the Nats sure appreciate from a player who could be casually trotting out ground balls.

“It’s harder to peel ‘em up. I don’t ever try to peel ‘em back,” Johnson said. “I like it. He’s not going to get any comments from me on it.”

Except that whole first base thing.

Dan Kolko was named’s Nationals beat writer after spending the last four years covering the Baltimore Ravens for MASN and also serving as the Web site’s deputy managing editor. A University of Delaware graduate originally from Silver Spring, Md., Dan grew up a die-hard baseball fan and is thrilled for the opportunity to cover the Nationals. Before joining MASN, Dan worked in production at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda, Md., and also interned at the “George Michael Sports Machine” in Washington, D.C.

Follow Dan Kolko on Twitter: @DanKolko

blog comments powered by Disqus