Harping on Harper’s stellar night

As Davey Johnson recapped last night’s thrilling 5-4 win over the Diamondbacks during his postgame press conference, he started rattling off names of guys who had contributed to the walk-off victory.

Johnson touched on starter Edwin Jackson, who didn’t have his best stuff but still kept his team in the game. He mentioned Ian Desmond, the hero, whose two-out homer in the ninth set off a wild celebration at home plate.

Then, Johnson paused.

“And what about the kid?” he said, a smile creeping onto his face.

Yeah, Bryce Harper was a pretty large factor in last night’s ballgame, all right. Desmond’s late-game dramatics might have been what made the highlight reels and ultimately what won the game for the Nationals, but the walk-off homer likely wouldn’t have been possible without Harper’s performance - which included a 3-for-4 day at the plate with two doubles, an RBI and two runs scored.

“He’s probably the reason we stayed in the game tonight,” reliever Craig Stammen said.

Playing in his second game at Nats Park, Harper was all over the field last night. He reached on an infield single in the second inning, doubled off the right-center field wall and drove in a run in the fourth (coming up about a foot or two short of his first major league homer in the process) and then doubled again off the wall in right-center leading off the ninth.

Though four games in the bigs, Harper is now hitting .385 with three extra-base hits in 13 at-bats.

On the basepaths, Harper showed his aggressiveness, trying to score from second on a Wilson Ramos single in the fourth inning that barely trickled into the outfield. Although second baseman Aaron Hill’s throw beat him to the plate, Harper managed to knock the ball free from the mitt of Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero and slid in safely.

He even made a barehanded catch in center - albeit an unintentional one - when he overran a sinking liner in the sixth and ended up having to snag the ball with his right hand.

“I was wondering if anybody saw that,” Harper laughed after the game.

Harper got it done on the bases, in the field and at the plate, even when he came up in a clutch situation in the ninth inning against Arizona’s veteran closer J.J. Putz, a hard thrower with a tough splitter. The rookie calmly took Putz’s first pitch for a ball before smacking a splitter out to the gap in right-center.

“He was born for those situations, I think,” Johnson said. “He likes the game on the line and him being up. You can tell by the way he’s aggressive. He makes them throw it over, and he’s trying to do some damage every time he swings it. It’s fun watching him.”

Overall, Harper clearly has been the most active, energetic guy on the field every day since his promotion from Triple-A. He battles against established pitchers, hustles out each ground ball and even runs hard on and off the field. Johnson believes that type of attitude can even rub off on veteran guys.

“It’s infectious,” Johnson said. “Seeing a 19-year-old hitting seventh come along and have nothing but quality at-bats, that’s impressive.”

“He brings a lot of energy to the team,” Desmond said. “That might be what we needed.”

It’s getting to the point that Johnson will have trouble rationalizing keeping Harper in the No. 7 spot in the lineup. The Nationals manager acknowledged after the game that he’s already mentioned to his coaches that Harper might be worthy of a bump up in the order, and no one in the room disagreed.

The way the youngster’s playing, it’d be hard to argue he shouldn’t be moved up a couple spots. The Nats certainly wouldn’t have won yesterday’s game without him.

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