Bryce Harper was pulled from tonight's game after six innings, but manager Matt Williams' decision to remove Harper had nothing to do with his tight quad muscle.
What was the reason?
"The inability to run 90 feet," Williams said sternly after the game, a 4-2 loss to the Cardinals. "Lack of hustle. That's why he came out of the game."
Harper grounded back to Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn leading off the bottom of the sixth inning. He trotted about two-thirds of the way down the first base line, and then when Lynn tossed the ball to first baseman Matt Adams for the out, Harper immediately veered toward the Nationals dugout.
When the top of the seventh inning started, Kevin Frandsen was playing left field in Harper's place, and Harper was sitting on the Nationals bench.
"We made an agreement," Williams explained afterward. "He and I made an agreement, this team made an agreement, that when we play the game, that we hustle at all times, that we play the game with intensity and the willingness to win. And as it turned out, his spot came up. Kevin Frandsen put on a nice AB against (Trevor) Rosenthal, but his spot came up with the ability to win the game. And that's a shame for his teammates.
"It's the way we set out to do it. Regardless of situation, regardless of what's happening to you personally, we have to play the game a certain way to give ourselves the best chance to win. And it's too bad that it came down to that situation in the ninth inning, when he could have been at the plate. For the sake of his teammates and the sake of the organization, he needs to play with aggression and the way he plays."
Even though Harper could have been up in the bottom of the ninth inning representing the game-winning run, and instead it was Frandsen, Williams said he still feels strongly about his decision.
"Of course," he said. "He's an exciting player. People come and pay money to watch him play and watch him play the way he can play. And it's pretty exciting, it's pretty dynamic. But there's another side to it, and the other side is that regardless of how hard the ball comes off the bat or how he's feeling about an at-bat, he must maintain that intensity and that aggressiveness. And that means running all the way to first base and touching the base.
"There's a million reasons why. The transfer rules that we've seen lately - what if that guy bobbles the ball as he's throwing it around, and (Harper) doesn't touch the base? He's out. He veers to the dugout, he's automatically out. Beyond all the, 'Just run 90 feet' stuff. But there's a real, tangible rule behind it now. So we must do that. And he understands that."
Williams made it clear that this won't be something that will land the 21-year-old in the doghouse going forward.
"He's going to be in the lineup tomorrow, but we made that agreement," Williams said.
On a broader note, the Nats trailed 3-0 early after an Anthony Rendon error led to three unearned runs allowed by Jordan Zimmermann, but they battled back to make it a game late. Danny Espinosa hit a solo homer off Lynn in the fifth and the Nats pushed across single runs in the eighth and ninth, but Jayson Werth struck out with the tying run at third to end the game, with Rosenthal firing three straight fastballs (at 98, 99 and 99 mph) by him for the final out.
"Zim pitched well," Williams said. "He got in a situation with (Matt) Holliday in his last inning when he gave up a base hit, but other than that, he pitched well enough to win today. We'll work on it tomorrow. ...
"I feel like we made a mistake, a couple of minor mistakes that cost us, but we were in the game. We had Jayson at the plate with the tying run at third. We'll take that every day. Against one of the best closers in the game. So we'll take that every day. There's positives and there's negatives to it. But we were in it again, and that's a good sign."
For Harper's reaction to being benched, click here.