Ea­ton gives Nats a lift as Harper moves over


The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JORGE CASTILLO

Bryce Harper emerged from the home dugout at Na­tion­als Park on Satur­day af­ter­noon as his team took the di­a­mond and made a bee­line to right field. It was out of habit. Right field has been his home for years. But right field wasn’t his do­main Satur­day. So when he snapped out of the mus­cle mem­ory, right be­fore cross­ing the first base line, he piv­oted. He was a cen­ter fielder Satur­day.

Harper was in cen­ter be­cause Adam Ea­ton re­turned from the dis­abled list, cre­at­ing an abun­dance of qual­i­fied out­field­ers most clubs would envy. It was on Na­tion­als Man­ager Dave Martinez to fig­ure it out, and Martinez, after a rest­less night sort­ing through the pos­si­bil­i­ties, de­cided to put Ea­ton — just four weeks

re­moved from an­kle surgery — in right field, shift Harper to cen­ter for the first time since 2015 and move Michael A. Taylor to the bench.

By sit­ting Taylor against a righthanded pitcher, Martinez traded de­fense for of­fense. The re­sult was the kind of of­fen­sive per­for­mance the Na­tion­als have pro­duced in­fre­quently and a timely out­put to over­come a rare hic­cup by a start­ing pitcher in a 7-5 vic­tory over the San Fran­cisco Gi­ants.

In his first game since April 8, Ea­ton, bat­ting lead­off, went 1 for 4 with a hit-by-pitch be­fore com­ing out of the game as part of a dou­ble switch after the sev­enth in­ning. He reached base twice and scored twice — sprint­ing from sec­ond base the first time — in the first two in­nings. He moved smoothly in the out­field, too, though he seemed to have trou­ble stop­ping.

“I was so tired. I’m so out of shape, it’s un­be­liev­able,” Ea­ton joked. “I’m pretty tired right now as well. It’s good, though. The [an­kle] re­acted re­ally well.”

Harper, mean­while, passed his first test in cen­ter field in the first in­ning, mak­ing a re­treat­ing catch after ini­tially turn­ing the wrong way. He looked more com­fort­able when he made a div­ing catch to end the third in­ning. At the plate, he fin­ished 2 for 5 with a tow­er­ing home run.

Be­fore the game, Martinez said Harper was en­thu­si­as­tic about play­ing cen­ter field, even com­ment­ing that he be­lieved it was the eas­i­est of the three out­field spots. Harper had some ex­pe­ri­ence there, ap­pear­ing in 121 games over his ca­reer in cen­ter, but he hadn’t played the po­si­tion in nearly three years. Asked whether it could be­come a more reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence, Martinez said it was pos­si­ble.

Ea­ton was Wash­ing­ton’s Open­ing Day cen­ter fielder last sea­son and played the po­si­tion dur­ing his re­hab as­sign­ment. But he was a stand­out right fielder with the Chicago White Sox in 2016, and the Na­tion­als want to lighten the load on Ea­ton. Play­ing him in right and giv­ing him the oc­ca­sional day off would help ac­com­plish that.

As for left field, Ea­ton’s po­si­tion on Open­ing Day this year, Martinez in­di­cated Juan Soto, the Na­tion­als’ 19-year-old ev­ery­day left fielder for nearly three weeks, has earned play­ing time be­cause he has had suc­cess against both right-han­ders and left-han­ders. Then there’s Taylor, who is slated to be back in the lineup Sun­day against a left-han­der, and Brian Good­win, the team’s fifth out­fielder who was in­stru­men­tal for stretches last sea­son.

“We’ll fig­ure out all this other stuff as the days go on,” Martinez said. “But it’s a good prob­lem to have.”

A po­ten­tially bad prob­lem sur­faced in the eighth in­ning Satur­day, when setup man Bran­don Kint­zler, after sur­ren­der­ing a dou­ble to Buster Posey, abruptly ex­ited after a brief visit from the team trainer. Sean Doolit­tle en­tered to com­plete a four-out save, but the Na­tion­als’ bullpen, among the league’s best over the past few weeks, may be fac­ing an­other set­back. After the game, Martinez said Kint­zler de­parted with a “tight fore­arm” and will un­dergo an MRI exam Sun­day.

The in­jury damp­ened a festive day that ini­tially be­longed to the Cap­i­tals. At 11:46 a.m., after the Cap­i­tals and Na­tion­als con­vened for pho­tos in the home club­house, Alex Ovechkin walked onto the field with the Stan­ley Cup, hoist­ing it be­hind the mound to a fe­ro­cious roar from fans pack­ing the sta­dium be­fore the 12:05 p.m. start to wit­ness the tro­phy’s next stop. The en­tire Cap­i­tals team fol­lowed their cap­tain and watched as Ovechkin, a left-handed thrower, sailed the cer­e­mo­nial first pitch over Max Scherzer’s head. Ovechkin asked for the ball back and tried again. The sec­ond pitch was lobbed over the plate.

The Cap­i­tals ended up in a suite along the left field line, beer flow­ing, pe­ri­od­i­cally snatch­ing at­ten­tion from the game when a player sur­faced with the Cup. Ovechkin lifted it dur­ing the third in­ning, bask­ing in cheers, while Gio Gon­za­lez la­bored to hold a five-run lead the Na­tion­als (36-26) had built against Gi­ants right-han­der Dereck Ro­driguez, who was pitch­ing with his fa­ther, Hall of Famer and for­mer Na­tion­als catcher Ivan Ro­driguez, in the crowd.

Gon­za­lez never found a rhythm. His tempo was off. His body lan­guage wasn’t en­cour­ag­ing. Even­tu­ally, he couldn’t put hit­ters away in the third in­ning. First, he went up 0-2 on Buster Posey only to walk him. Later, with two outs, Even Lon­go­ria sin­gled after get­ting be­hind 1-2. Fi­nally, Nick Hund­ley, after go­ing down 0-2, belted a three-run home run. The left-han­der es­caped the in­ning with­out fur­ther dam­age but se­cured just one out in the fourth in­ning and was re­lieved after 97 pitches with the bases loaded.

“The con­trol was a lit­tle bit off,” said Gon­za­lez, who al­lowed four runs and walked four in a sea­son­low 31/3 in­nings. “It was just try­ing to fin­ish the in­ning and get through. Ob­vi­ously, I was off.”

Gon­za­lez’s early exit forced a bullpen that logged seven in­nings Fri­day to ab­sorb an­other heavy work­load. Justin Miller was the first called on. He al­lowed an in­her­ited run­ner to score on a sac­ri­fice fly but shut the door after that to keep the Na­tion­als ahead 5-4. Harper quickly dou­bled the mar­gin, swat­ting a slider over the plate from left-han­der Ty Blach to right­cen­ter field in the fourth in­ning for his Na­tional League-lead­ing 19th home run. Spencer Kieboom’s RBI dou­ble in the sev­enth — his first ca­reer ex­tra-base hit — gave Wash­ing­ton’s re­lief corps a two-run cush­ion.

Then, be­fore the eighth in­ning, Martinez told Harper he was putting Good­win in cen­ter field and mov­ing Harper to right. Harper protested. He wanted to stay in cen­ter. But Martinez didn’t re­lent. He told him to re­lax a bit. He will be back there soon enough any­way.


Bryce Harper, who played cen­ter field for the first time since 2015, crushes a solo home run in the fourth in­ning against the Gi­ants.

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