It’s hard, after seeing what we saw yesterday at Nationals Park, not to think big picture.
It’s hard not to think about what could be happening two or three years down the road, possibly more. It’s hard not to envision Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg putting together dominating performances like Monday’s in front of consistently packed houses, with fans clamoring for tickets to watch the dual phenoms in person.
Despite their relative lack of big league experience, we still got to see something special yesterday. Harper ripped two home runs in his first two at-bats of 2013 and delivered a 275-foot laser beam of a throw from left field to home plate to start a double play. Strasburg worked seven dominant, scoreless innings on just 80 pitches, allowing just three hits without walking a single Marlins hitter.
If that’s what Harper and Strasburg are able to do at 20 and 24, respectively, how good can they be with a couple more years of experience under their belts? How dangerous a duo can these guys be once they’ve each actually played a full major league season or two?
Yesterday was an opening day win, one victory of what the Nationals hope will be many this season. But could it be more?
“There’s no doubt this is a glimpse” of what could be to come, Adam LaRoche said. “I mean, these guys both are going to get a lot better. We’ve seen them both do some things where you kind of, you just laugh about it. How on that stage, in that situation ... and then to do it, I don’t think anybody’s surprised by it.”
How are we, as outsiders, as fans of the game, supposed to react to these types of performances when Harper and Strasburg’s teammates aren’t even really sure how to?
When Harper’s first home run went out over the right field fence, his teammates smiled. Here he goes again, they might have thought. Clippard and Drew Storen, who sat in the clubhouse watching the first inning on TV, shared a did-that-just-happen type of chuckle.
When the second homer was launched into the bleachers in right, this after Harper spit on a tough two-strike splitter from Marlins righty Ricky Nolasco to force a full count, the guys in the dugout were at a loss.
“I mean, what do you say?” Ian Desmond said.
Added Denard Span, who got his first in-person glimpse of Harper in a regular season game yesterday: “You just shake your head. You just shake your head in amazement.”
Hitting coach Rick Eckstein has spent countless hours working with Harper in the cages. He’s seen how much work Harper puts into his craft. And he knows that yesterday won’t be the last time we see Harper put on a show of that nature.
“You know what this young man is capable of,” Eckstein said. “Bryce is capable of doing tremendous things. For him to do that, you just sit back and it gives everyone an air of confidence. It’s infectious.”
Same goes for Strasburg, especially when he’s working to contact like he was yesterday. Strasburg retired 19 straight Marlins hitters at one point, and had back-to-back seven-pitch innings in the fifth and sixth.
One reporter suggested to Desmond that Strasburg’s performance yesterday might have even been more impressive than the right-hander’s major league debut back in 2010, when he struck out 14 Pirates in seven innings of two-run ball.
Desmond agreed, saying Strasburg’s ability to work to contact and keep his pitch count so low made the outing something special.
It certainly won’t be the last special outing we’ll see from Strasburg or the final time Harper dazzles fans and teammates with his ridiculous athleticism and ability. These two will be in D.C. together through at least 2016 (after which Strasburg could become a free agent), and as manager Davey Johnson likes to say, it’ll be fun watching what they can do.
“It gives us as a team a lot of confidence that they’re putting the W up on their backs and not any other uniforms,” Clippard said. “I’m glad they’re on our team.”
Said Desmond: “I think they’re both just scratching the surface. I think they’ve got a lot more epic things in there.”