Bench coach Randy Knorr had some critical comments in regards to Bryce Harper's hustle, or lack thereof, on an eighth-inning groundout to second base in tonight's 3-2 loss to the Mets.
Knorr said that even if Harper sprinted out his grounder at Daniel Murphy with two outs in the eighth, Murphy probably collects the ball after his initial bobble and throws Harper out. But in Knorr's mind, Harper gets frustrated when he doesn't perform at times, which affects his effort level.
Knorr went as far as to say that if the hustle doesn't improve, "eventually, we're just going to have to take him out of the game."
Harper was told by reporters after the game about Knorr's remarks.
"I guess I'll learn from it," Harper said simply.
On the play itself, Harper said he just assumed Murphy would have him easily at first.
"He's pretty good over there, so, in that situation, I think he makes that play every single day," Harper said.
As for the 3-0 swing on a fastball down and in, Harper said he liked the pitch from Mets left-hander Scott Rice and was trying to do some damage with the tying run in scoring position.
"He threw me a fastball inside, and I thought I could've done something with it," Harper said. "Like I said, just missed it, fouled it back, and the next pitch was off the plate and probably ball four. (Scott) Atchison warming up, it probably would've been huge for (Jayson) Werth to be up in that situation, of course. Sometimes the ball doesn't roll that way, and I grounded out."
Ian Desmond, who has become one of the leaders on this Nationals team, was asked about Harper swinging 3-0 in that spot and the speed with which the Nats' outfielder made his way down to first base.
"I know that when he got 3-0 and he let it go, I know that takes a lot of guts in that situation, lefty-lefty," Desmond said. "Those same guts are going to be what makes us give this final push in this last month. It takes a lot of courage to let it fly right there, and I commend him for that.
"As far as the baserunning goes, it takes guts also to run out the ones that you think are going to be outs. He does it 95, 99, whatever it is, almost 100 percent of the time, and I think this one might've just got pointed out because the guy made a bobble or whatever. I mean he's 20 years old, and I think he's still dealing with some emotions of the game. It's hard to remember a lot of the time that he is 20. What most of us were doing at 20 wasn't this."
Harper has been battling various injuries for much of the season, so there have been times when his lack of hustle - compared to last season - has been justified. None of us except for Harper know how healthy he is at the moment, but it sure seems like the level of intensity on the basepaths has dropped off a bit of late.
The lack of hustle in the eighth inning didn't cost the Nationals the game by any means. Harper is still probably going to be thrown out even if he sprints down the line, but that one play seems to be indicative of what's been a larger trend over the last few months.
Ryan Zimmerman was asked if he feels Harper has been playing as hard this year as he did last season.
"I don't know. I think all of us in here play hard every day," Zimmerman said. "Bryce is one of those those guys that plays hard just like everybody else. There's a big difference between playing hard and not playing too hard. But playing over-hard is one way to put it. You don't need to be on second base when you pop it up to the second baseman. It's impossible to do that for 162 games. But when you ground out, you should run hard.
"I'm not saying that he didn't or anything like that. Bryce plays the game hard, and he always has as long as I've been here. I don't really think anyone has a problem with it. But at this level, you get paid a lot of money to play baseball and if you ground out or you fly out, you should run the ball out. That's the way I've always been taught, and that's the way I'm always going to play."