Harper hits D.C.

Harper hits D.C.
May 1, 2012, 2:31 pm

Bryce Harper didn't think he'd be stepping onto the field at Nationals Park quite this soon. But he knew the day would be coming sometime soon, so he's had plenty of time to contemplate what it will be like.

"I'm really excited," he said. "Very, very excited. It's going to be a fun time."

Break out your fauxhawk wigs, your eye black and your No. 34 jerseys, because the fun starts tonight when Harper makes his D.C. debut as the Nationals open a three-game series against the Diamondbacks.

Harper is expected to again be in manager Davey Johnson's lineup, starting in left field against Arizona right-hander Trevor Cahill. And if the first two games of the his career are an indication of things to come, don't be surprised if the 19-year-old is the center of attention again.

Harper's imprint was all over both weekend games at Dodger Stadium. His double, sacrifice fly and pinpoint throw to the plate helped put the Nationals in position to win Saturday night until reliever Henry Rodriguez blew the save in the ninth. And his wall-crashing catch on Sunday kept things close and allowed him to step to the plate in the ninth with a chance to tie the game.

Through it all, Harper maintained a level of composure befitting a player with far more big-league service time than two days. He again insisted he wasn't nervous to be thrown into the fire like that.

"No, not much," he said. "Like I said, I'm trying to stay as calm as I can when I go out there. We've got a great ballclub, great veteran guys that really help me out and just talk to me about the game and whatnot throughout the whole game. It's a lot of fun being out there. It's exciting for me."

Harper's performance and veteran approach left some at Dodger Stadium wondering if his first stint with the Nationals might actually extend longer than the club might have intended when it first promoted him.

In announcing the surprising move on Friday, general manager Mike Rizzo acknowledged Harper might only stick around until Ryan Zimmerman returns from the disabled list (the third baseman is eligible to come back as soon as Sunday). Even if his fate isn't tied to Zimmerman's, Harper might not perform at a level consistent enough to merit his long-term stay in Washington ... yet.

"This may not be his breakout moment," Rizzo said. "Like Mike Trout with the Angels, there could be a step sideways to take a leap forward."

Trout, universally regarded as one of baseball's top two prospects along with Harper, made his debut for the Angels last summer at 19 but was sent back to Class AA after only three weeks and a .163 batting average. He returned to finish out the season but didn't break camp with Los Angeles this spring.

Despite the obvious comparisons between the two, Harper does find himself in a different situation. In this case, the Nationals desperately need offensive help, especially in left field where Michael Morse's replacements were hitting a combined .093 with four RBI before Harper arrived.

Though it's only been two games, Harper showed a more advanced approach at the plate than plenty of more experienced teammates have displayed this season.

Which might just mean we might just be seeing a lot more of Bryce Harper in Washington this summer.