Nats add veteran utilityman Harrison, send Read down

The Nationals formally signed Josh Harrison to a major league contract today and will have the veteran utilityman in uniform for tonight’s series opener against the Blue Jays.

Harrison, 33, was released by the Phillies last week before playing in a regular season game for them. The nine-year veteran and two-time All-Star is a career .273 hitter with 53 homers, 277 RBIs and a .714 OPS, the vast majority of his time coming with the Pirates.

The Nationals had expressed some interest in acquiring Harrison, who primarily plays second and third bases but has experience at the corner outfield positions, a few years ago. Once he became available late last week, they jumped at the opportunity to bring on board at last.

“I would say we were pretty close in the past,” Harrison said. “There was always mutual interest. It just didn’t match up. But here we are now. I was a free agent, and when I got the call, it seemed like a good place to be. It’s always one of my favorite places to play.”

Harrison-Throws-Tigers-Sidebar.jpgGetting to D.C., however, was no simple task. Harrison, his wife and two children were living in a two-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia. They decided to get in their two cars and begin the drive home to Cincinnati at 4 a.m. Thursday.

Along the way, Harrison’s agent called to say he had multiple offers, and he admits he was close to accepting one of them, even going so far as to send in direct deposit info for his paychecks. But only 20 minutes from arriving home late Thursday night, his agent called again to say the Nationals were now making an offer. Harrison didn’t think twice about accepting it.

“I wish they would’ve called me eight hours prior,” Harrison said with a laugh. “But at the same time, I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

So Harrison and family arrived at home in Cincinnati late Thursday night. He woke up early Friday morning and hit the road again at 5 a.m. and drove (this time by himself) to Washington, where he spent the last few days waiting for his contract to be finalized after spending 16 of 24 hours in a car crisscrossing the mid-Atlantic.

“But, hey, it’s worth it,” he said. “My family is back home safely, and here I am getting an opportunity to play.”

Harrison played in only 36 games last season for the Tigers due to a hamstring injury, batting .175 with a .480 OPS. He’s healthy now and was pleased he was able to show the Phillies he could handle both infield and outfield duties during summer training.

The Nationals are mostly set in their infield for now, with Starlin Castro starting at second base, Asdrúbal Cabrera and Carter Kieboom sharing the third base job and veteran Emilio Bonifácio serving as a jack-of-all-trades utilityman.

But the club likes the versatility and experience Harrison brings to the table, and with Kieboom currently dealing with a sore groin that has restricted him to DH duties for one game so far, they found room for him on the current 30-man roster by optioning third catcher Raudy Read to their alternate training site in Fredericksburg.

“He was a good addition, we felt, for us, and I think he will fit right in,” manager Davey Martinez said. “The way this season is going, the energy is ... we need guys who have that energy and that spark. We feel like he can bring that.”

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