Anytime there’s a story involving Bryce Harper, the sports world takes notice.
When that story is related to Harper getting benched for a lack of hustle, the sports world really takes notice.
Matt Williams’ decision to pull Harper from yesterday’s game for not running out a ground ball back to the pitcher is one of the lead stories on ESPN’s Web site, was all over MLB Network and has been discussed on countless blogs over the last 17 hours.
The Nationals will try to move past this story today, but before they do, here are just a couple more thoughts on the topic.
First of all, it’s easy to forget that Harper still is just 21. This is his third big league season, but he’s still the youngest active position player in the majors, and in many ways is still learning how to deal with the struggles that are inevitable at this level.
Harper’s groundout to Lance Lynn that saw him trot just two-thirds of the way down the line before veering to the Nats’ dugout made the left fielder 2-for-15 in his last four games, after going 12-for-21 in the previous four. Harper has the ability to rake and stay hot for a long stretch, but when he hits a rough patch, which happens in baseball, he takes it very hard.
If I’m a Nats fan, my concern going forward is that Harper is going to literally go 100 percent on every play now, and with him currently battling a tight quad, that could lead to some type of injury that lands him on the disabled list.
The last thing the Nats want is Harper being out for a matter of weeks for going all-out on another tapper back to the mound.
Williams’ decision, however, was obviously meant to send a message that no one player is above the team, and everyone needs to play the game the right way, regardless of what type of personal struggles you might be going through.
Does Williams risk alienating Harper or rubbing the guys in the clubhouse the wrong way? Maybe, but I don’t think that will happen. By now, the players understand what Williams is all about and that he cares deeply about his team going about its business the right way.
Harper prides himself on his hustle and his old-school way of approaching the game, and he acknowledged yesterday that he should have run the ground ball out. I think he’ll take something out of this and will be inspired to go attack things the right way going forward.
The great thing about baseball is that there’s another game today. Harper can move past this, Williams can see how his team responds, and the Nats can try and earn a split in their four-game set with the Cardinals.