Bryce Harper's hustle takes no All-Star break

Bryce Harper's hustle takes no All-Star break
July 14, 2012, 3:40 pm
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MIAMI -- It got kind of lost in the shuffle of last night's 5-1 victory over the Marlins -- which was highlighted more by Jordan Zimmermann's pitching dominance and Ryan Zimmerman's continued mashing at the plate -- but the Nationals' hustle on the basepaths shouldn't go unnoticed.

It began right out of the chute with Bryce Harper, who turned a top-of-the-first bloop single to left into a double. Actually, Harper was credited only with a single, with left fielder Logan Morrison charged with an error after booting the ball.

Harper, though, should have been given the double. Just listen to what he said about his mindset as he made contact with that pitch.

"I was thinking two out of the box," he said. "I saw they were playing me deep. They bobbled it, so it was even better for me."

Harper, of course, wasn't done hustling after reaching second base. Moments later, he caught Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson napping, none of them paying attention and none of them covering third base. So he bolted.

"I just saw Hanley and Reyes talking," he said. "That was the only thing I saw. And then Johnson was rubbing his hands with the ball. So I just took off. That's it."

You don't often see that kind of play in the big leagues, either because the defensive players aren't so lackadaisical or the guy on the bases isn't so aggressive. Harper, though, didn't see what the big deal was.

"I've been doing that since I was 13 years old," he said. "It's something I look for sometimes. That's what I saw, and I just took off."

Harper may not have been impressed with his own hustle, but his teammates certainly were.

"We talk about how Harper comes in and obviously brings us a little bit of energy," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "That baserunning play he made in the first inning kind of sparked my mind a little bit. I thought: 'Hey, would I have done that?' And then I was just a little bit more alert throughout the game."

That was especially obvious with one out in the top of the sixth, as Desmond stood on second base with Adam LaRoche on third and Jesus Flores at the plate.

Flores lofted a little looper to shallow left field. LaRoche held up at third base, thinking he might need to tag up if the ball was caught. Desmond, though, immediately took off from second, sending the ball would fall in for a hit and thus giving him a chance to score.

"I saw the left fielder was deep," he said. "I knew there was no chance he was going to get it. I didn't panic, but I was a little worried when Rochie came back and tagged up. I was like: 'What's going on? Am I missing something?' I just knew the outfielder was back."

Both guys did wind up scoring, though Desmond very nearly lapped LaRoche coming around third and crossed the plate just steps behind him.

"I could've easily caught him," Desmond said. "I was yelling: 'Go! Go! Go!'"

Those two runs weren't the difference in the game; the Nationals already led 3-0 at the time. But they did help keep their energy level up at a time when it easily could have dropped.

The Marlins certainly looked sluggish in their first game back from the All-Star break. The Nationals looked anything but.

"When you come back from the All-Star break, it's like starting the season new," Desmond said. "You want to know how you feel. You want to make sure you're the same way you were when you left. I think to get out and have Bryce make that heads-up play in the first inning, it kind of told everybody: 'Hey, we're back. We're all right. Same game, same players.' It kind of eased my mind a little bit."