Bryce Harper now a "young veteran" after six years in the majors

April 28, 2012, 19-year-old Bryce Harper made his major league debut at Dodger Stadium as the Nats faced off against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Harper went 1-for-3, a double off of Chad Billingsley, with one RBI.

Manager Davey Martinez is now his manager on that "birthday" six years later.

"Hey, by the way, happy major league birthday to Bryce Harper, 25 years old, six years, pretty impressive," Martinez announced during his pregame media session Saturday before the Nationals faced off against the Diamondbacks.

Martinez remembered the first time he met Harper when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays and they visited Nats Park for a series against the Nationals.

"The first time I met him we came in with Tampa," Martinez recollected. "I grabbed him. I said, 'hey just want you to know, I love the way you play the game. Keep playing the game hard like that. Don't let anyone tell you not too, just be you'.

"He said 'thank you, appreciate it'."

Martinez was asked if that encounter was similar to his with manager Joe Maddon when they met on a minor league field early in his career.

"That was like in 1983, the first time I met Joe," Martinez said. "He told me the same thing, 'hey, don't ever change, you play the game the right way'. I was 18, wasn't in the big leagues (laughs)."

Harper-Swings-42-White-Sidebar.jpgHarper has matured in his six years in the majors. One distinct difference to when he first arrived in the majors is his patience at the plate.

Martinez said back when he had to figure out how to get Harper out his club had a game plan that worked. That doesn't work any more.

"The buzz is throw strikes early and then he'll chase late," Martinez said. "Well now he's not doing that. Now he's taking his walks. Which is good. It's just a matter of time before he gets back to hitting the pitch that he's supposed to hit and not missing the one or two that he gets. That's basically what it comes down to."

Harper alluded to that one pitch when he was given a plate full of curveballs from Diamondbacks starter Zack Godley Friday night. He managed to walk twice, but also struck out with the bases loaded on a sinker after facing four straight curveballs.

"I think in that spot, bases loaded, he gave me one pitch to hit, first pitch curveball, then everything else was off the plate," Harper said Friday night. "There's a fine line of trying to stay awake in those at-bats and not let them lull yourself to sleep. Trying to have good at-bats and see what happens."

Godley deserved a hat-tip for striking out Harper. But Martinez said most opposing pitchers would just as soon walk Harper.

"If you're smart, yeah you tend not to pitch to him," Martinez added. "If I'm a pitcher I'm going to make him chase, of course. He's taking his walks, that's a great thing. That's good for him and good for our ball club."

But Harper would of course much rather hit the ball, especially the long ball, then settle for three or four walks a game. Martinez can understand how that can weigh on Harper.

"For him I'm sure it's frustrating," Martinez said. "But you know what I think he's doing a great job taking his walks. He's got a chance to set major league record for a month of walks. Kudos to him for taking his walks. We tell him all the time, hey, you just become a good teammate for the next guy. The next guy has to do the job. Don't go outside your zone, stay in your zone. He'll get pitches to hit. When he gets them, he just can't miss them."

Six years in the majors makes him a veteran player. Harper is in his contract year and has learned in those six years how to get the most out of each at-bat. Martinez still sees that young player in the way Harper looks. But also he sees a 25-year-old who now is a critical leader for the Nats on and off the field.

"Well, it's funny you look at him he still looks like, to me, looks like a baby," Martinez said. "I got kids older than him. Knowing that he has been around for such a long time you look at him as a young veteran, really. And his presence in the clubhouse and on the field really speaks for itself. I'm really happy for him and I'm glad I get to manage him every day."

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