Harper shows not just skill, but smarts

PHILADELPHIA - Cole Hamels will take the hill for the Phillies in the series finale against the Nationals later tonight.

I'm pretty sure if Hamels hits anyone this time, he'll remember to say the pitch just got away from him.

Just a hunch.

We all know about Bryce Harper's immense skill and the intensity with which he plays the game. Those are aspects the phenom brings to the table which can't be ignored. But last night, Harper showed us a less-talked-about part of his overall repertoire - his baseball smarts.

Back in the early stages of spring training, Harper was having a conversation with Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein, and the topic turned to how Harper felt he could attack Phillies starter Roy Halladay.

Harper runs stars stripes.jpgThe 19-year-old had watched enough of Halladay to put together his own scouting report on how the veteran righty likes to attack hitters. Harper tossed out a possible plan of attack against Halladay, and it was one Eckstein endorsed.

After singling in his first at-bat off Halladay, Harper put his plan into action when he stepped up to face Halladay with two runners on in the third inning.

"I've been watching him for about three years," Harper said. "He throws a first-pitch curveball to so many people and they just let it get over the plate, so I was just really trying to get something up in that situation and get something going."

Halladay served up that first-pitch curveball, and Harper was ready.

"I got it, luckily, and put a good swing on it and just did some things," Harper said.

Harper turned on the hanging curve, smoking it into the gap in right-center. The Nats right fielder hustled his way into third with his third career triple (and second in three games), and the two runs that scored on the play broke a 1-1 tie.

It was not only a big play in the game ("the turning point, as far as I'm concerned," said manager Davey Johnson) but one that illustrates yet again how advanced a player Harper is.

Many rookies facing a perennial All-Star like Halladay for the first time would go up looking to just put the ball in play or not end up looking silly.

Harper goes up with a specific plan, and he goes up looking to do some damage.

"He doesn't look fazed (against) anybody," Johnson said. "He's going to get his hacks. He's been that way last year, every time I've ever seen him. He's not going to get cheated. And he has a pretty good idea what he's trying to do. He's not over-pull conscious. He's not over-conscious going the other way. He's just looking for a ball he can drive, and he got one right there."

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