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Harper’s hustle questioned after loss to Mets

Aug 31, 2013, 12:26 AM EDT

Associated Press Associated Press

If the Nationals are going to complete a gargantuan comeback and actually make the postseason after falling 6 games below the .500 mark in early August — and the odds still are decidedly stacked against them doing it — they can’t afford to come up short in clutch situations. They can’t afford to make poor decisions at critical points of ballgames. And they certainly can’t offer up anything less than 100 percent of their effort at any point between now and September 29.

The Nationals struggled in all three departments Friday night during a 3-2 loss to the Mets that felt like a golden opportunity squandered. Sure, they might have lost this game anyway. And every loss they suffer over the next four weeks is going to loom large.

But there was something about the way this one played out in the final two innings that might have left more of a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths than previous losses.

The two critical moments involved two of their biggest stars: Ryan Zimmerman, who allowed the eventual decisive run to score on an ill-advised throw in the top of the eighth, and Bryce Harper, who had a couple of questionable swings in a huge spot in the bottom of the eighth and then failed to hustle down the first-base line upon grounding out to kill the rally.

“The thing about Bryce right now that’s tough: He gets frustrated,” said bench coach Randy Knorr, who had to take over for an ill Davey Johnson mid-game. “I don’t think he does it intentionally, but he’s gonna have to start picking it up a little bit, because we’ve got everybody else doing it. He gets frustrated at times and it just comes out of him. It’s something we’ve got to fix.”

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  1. Section 222 - Aug 31, 2013 at 1:04 AM

    So how does a guy score from second on that infield single without an error being charged? Doesn’t Zim have to get an error for the errant throw that let the run score? Anyone have an explanation?

    I’m glad Harper’s lack of hustle is being noticed. Unfortunately, he seems to be turning into every other MLB player who can’t be bothered to sprint 90 feet every 45 minutes or so if he hits a routine grounder or popup. I’ll never forget his first AB in LA last year. Hits it right back to the pitcher and sprints to first like he’s going to beat it out. And almost did. He just doesn’t do that anymore. This wasn’t the first time.

    Hate to say it, but if the Nats can’t score more than 2 runs on Dylan Gee with JZnn pitching magnificently they aren’t a playoff bound team. But we knew that already.

    • Feel Wood - Aug 31, 2013 at 8:38 AM

      Zimmerman’s throw wasn’t errant, it was ill-advised. It was a fielder’s choice. LaRoche fielded it cleanly, and the scorer determined that the runner would have been safe even if the throw was on the mark and scored it as a single. Runners advance two bases on a single all the time, so no error could be assessed on that.

      • Section 222 - Aug 31, 2013 at 9:43 AM

        Wow. What play were you watching? Actually, ALR didn’t field it cleanly because it was a lousy throw. The ball got away from him, which allowed the runner to score. I understand that the batter got a single because he would have been safe even if the throw had been a good one. That’s not a fielder’s choice, it’s a base hit. But if the throw was on target, the runner would not have scored, whether or not it got the batter at first. That’s why I thought it should be a single, with an error on Zim allowing the run to score.

        Just because runners often score from second on singles to the outfield doesn’t mean no error can be assessed does it? If an outfielder misses the cutoff man on a ball hit to the gap and the ball rolls across the infield allowing a man on first to come all the way around to score, does that mean that no error is charged because runners score from first on doubles all the time?

        Thanks for clarifying the possible rationale of the official scorer though. It’s just amazing to me that Zim doesn’t get charged with an error on that crappy play. But I guess he didn’t get charged with an error on the brain freeze in KC either.

        And welcome back to the real Feel. :-)

      • Feel Wood - Aug 31, 2013 at 10:45 AM

        Consider how the play would have been scored if Murphy had been on first and took third on Zim’s throw to first. Two bases on an infield single, no error charged. The only possibility for an error would have been if the throw got past LaRoche and the batter ended up on second. As it was, the only error that could have been charged to Zim would have been a mental error – and there’s no such thing in official scoring.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 31, 2013 at 10:48 AM

        Murphy got a good jump and was at full speed a few steps from third by the time Zim released the ball, and in a perfect position to see he was going to try to make the play. He never slowed around the bag, and once Zim’s lollypop landed well short, LaRoche had very little chance unless he picked it up cleanly on the run and made a perfect throw, maybe not even then. Score it 3rd base on the ground ball and home on the throw, both fielder’s choices.

      • Feel Wood - Aug 31, 2013 at 11:27 AM

        And I wouldn’t even call it a mental error on Zim’s part. He fielded the ball with his back to the play. He had no idea where Murphy was. He had a better idea where the batter-runner was, and thought he could make the play. Textbook fielder’s choice.

    • Hiram Hover - Aug 31, 2013 at 10:00 AM

      Section 222

      The mistake Zimm made was in throwing the ball to 1B in the first place. That was a mental mistake, and those in almost all cases aren’t scored errors under MLB’s official rules.

  2. NatsLady - Aug 31, 2013 at 1:20 AM

    No, “we” don’t know that already. Don’t include me in that “we,” because I don’t know any such thing.

  3. doctorjoseph - Aug 31, 2013 at 1:37 AM

    The only thing I can think with Bryce is that maybe he’s trying to pick his spots because of the knee – saving it a little bit on “routine” outs. It certainly doesn’t look good, but it might explain a little bit. If not, then 222 is right on the money – that he has changed for the worse in the past year.

    • NatsLady - Aug 31, 2013 at 2:00 AM

      That’s what I thought too (see my comments in the “Instant Analysis” thread. That’s why I was very surprised by Knorr’s remarks, as a glimpse into what he and the players are seeing.

      Clearly Ramos is holding back because of the hamstring, and Werth may be still feeling the groin. It seemed reasonable that Harper’s knee still bothers him, he said a while back he expected it would last all season. I figured he might have some minor surgery to clean it up after the season. If he’s pouting or has become discouraged, however, that needs to be addressed.

      I’m not convinced Harper has morphed into Jimmy Rollins, or any other MLB player who “can’t be bothered.” Look at what he went through with the foul ball off his foot. Look at how he almost came to blows with an ump and had to be dragged off the field by Werth. That doesn’t strike me as a guy who “can’t be bothered.”

      He’s young, mercurial, and, has been pointed out by Mark–among others–he’s on a losing team for the first time in his life, and he’s not coping well. Looking over at the Puig situation, it strikes me that this has to be carefully handled: let the player know what he is doing is not acceptable, but don’t stamp out the fire.

      • laddieblahblah - Aug 31, 2013 at 3:20 AM

        I suspect you are right. I do not believe Harper’s knee is 100%.

      • Sonny G 10 - Aug 31, 2013 at 1:40 PM

        I agree with you NatsLady.

  4. David Proctor - Aug 31, 2013 at 1:52 AM

    Werth strongly insinuated this yesterday and I didn’t think too much of it, but I think it’s very true. Harper has way too many voices in his ear. He has people from all directions: analysts, former players, whatever telling him he should play this way or that way. Always critiquing what he does, calling him reckless, etc. Some of it has merit, some of it doesn’t.

    Werth basically said yesterday that Harper needs to learn to tune that stuff out and just play that game. But that’s easier said than done for a 20 year old. So maybe that doesn’t excuse Harper for not running something out, but it’s something to keep an eye on going forward in all facets of his play.

    The “run til they tag you” stuff was never going to last long. FP said as much. Harper was making some dumb plays and getting away with them. I’m not talking about running things out or taking the extra base, that was fine, but some other examples he got very lucky on. So I’m fine with him cutting that part of his game, even if it was fun to watch. It’s part of the maturation process of a player.

    Harper knows he should be running out groundballs, I’m not excusing that. That’s a lack of hustle. But there are multiple things going on here. For what it’s worth, Desi and Zim both tried to defend Harper.

  5. NatsLady - Aug 31, 2013 at 2:08 AM

    DP, agreed. Strasburg went through the same (if not worse, last year with the shutdown). Every little move analyzed, critiqued. Is he mature? Is he a team player? Is he mentally tough? Are the Nats babying him? Can he pitch when it’s raining/hot/infielders make errors, etc.? Can he go past seven innings? Eight innings?

    That sort of micro-managing comes with stardom. Everyone has an opinion; a lot of the opinions seem reasonable. Look at what happened with Span–too many opinions. But how do you know which ones to tune out and which ones are actually going to help?

  6. David Proctor - Aug 31, 2013 at 2:15 AM

    Yeah, NL. Many will say it comes with the territory with stardom like you said. And it does. Harper will eventually learn to deal with all of those influences and voices. But at 20, it’s hard to expect him to know how to handle it all. To this point, I’ve been very impressed with how well he’s handled it. And he still publicly handles it well, but you have to think some of it gets to him. Werth clearly thinks it gets to him and Knorr said he does too. They all refer to “he’s dealing with a lot, being a 20 year old in the majors” and they all talk about the plethora of people criticizing him.

    The only way he’ll learn is through time and experience. The coaches need to tell him what to do and he needs to follow his coaches. Tune out everyone else. But he’s a kid who wants to make everyone happy.

    • NatsLady - Aug 31, 2013 at 2:19 AM

      Exactly. Span, who is NOT twenty years old, had the same problem with his offense. On a new team, wanting to please, getting lots of advice… He had perfect confidence in his D–which is perfect. Today was the first time I saw him get a bad read, and he STILL caught the ball. He didn’t have confidence in himself as a hitter, and he missed his old coaches who, as he said, knew how to fix him.

  7. NatsLady - Aug 31, 2013 at 2:23 AM

    It’s funny you mention Werth, also. Yesterday in the postgame he said, “We’re young. We’ve learned a lot.” Well, Werth isn’t young, and it’s not clear what he learned….so he maybe meant Harper?

  8. tcostant - Aug 31, 2013 at 7:11 AM

    I’m warming up to Knorr as the next manager, this guy pulls no punches. And doesn’t take any crap.

  9. Section 222 - Aug 31, 2013 at 8:19 AM

    If he is picking his spots, why didn’t he pick that spot — bottom of the 8th, two out, two on, game on the line? If he’s injured and can’t run hard, that’s one thing (or if he’s trying hard not to get injured again, like Ramos). But he’s now been back for almost two months. And we’ve seen him book it when he hits the ball in the gap or is chasing a fly ball. I think Knorr had it right. He was pissed at himself for not connecting in the big spot and forgot that the play’s not over till it’s over. Plus he’s now had a whole year of watching his teammates jog to first on similar plays.

    Running out routine groundballs is not the same thing as reckless run till they tag you offense. It’s solid fundamental baseball, and way too many major leaguers don’t do it, including FoF, the sainted Werth, and others.

  10. Doc - Aug 31, 2013 at 9:24 AM

    If it was not his knee, then Harper needs to be taken out of the game, like Cholly did with Rolllins in a game where Rollins failed to run out a grounder.

    Hasn’t Harper repeated ad naseum that ‘he only knows how to play hard’???

  11. Faraz Shaikh - Aug 31, 2013 at 10:34 AM

    I blame JZ for giving up 3 runs against a lineup like Mets.

  12. nats106 - Aug 31, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    So Harper gets a specific thread on his lack of hustle or frustration or whatever you want to call it? And both Stammen and Zimmerman don’t for their lack of effort last Sunday? Did Span get a special headline for his misdeeds at the plate and on the basepaths? If you’re going to single out players for lack of effort, keep it consistent.

    He’s done nothing but hustle since he’s been here with occasional lapses in judgment. If anything, Nats are still in this race because of his attitude.

    NL, I agree with the leave out “we”. Unless you want to say “We” are still in this.

  13. Section 222 - Aug 31, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    Hey, to each his, or her, own. Plenty of us know it’s over. But nothing wrong with keeping hope alive if you want to. I’m enjoying the better baseball, even though Zim and Harper fell short last night. And I still cheer just as loud at the park, don’t worry.

    Just saw Knorr’s postgame interview. I doubt he’ll be the manager next year, but I like his straightforward responses. The guy tells it like it is.

    Someone mentioned a few threads ago that Zim is back to playing normal depth in the field. Sure didn’t look like it on that double by Murphy.

    The after game fireworks were great. But why do they leave the lights on so bright in the upper deck?

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