Re­cov­ered Harper gets au­di­tion in cen­ter field

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY AMANDA COMAK

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. | Bryce Harper made his re­turn to the Washington Na­tion­als’ lineup Wed­nes­day night, but it was in a new place: cen­ter field. The out­fielder, who missed the past six games with a tight left calf, played just 20 of his 109 mi­nor league games last year in cen­ter.

Na­tion­als man­ager Davey John­son said he’d planned all along to play Harper in cen­ter at some point this spring. With Rick Ankiel still deal­ing with a left ham­string strain, John­son felt the time was right. When third base coach Bo Porter ran the idea of play­ing cen­ter by Harper, the player’s re­ac­tion was en­thu­si­as­tic.

“As far as I’m con­cerned, any­body who can throw and run like he can should have ex­pe­ri­ence in all the out­field po­si­tions,” John­son said.

The Na­tion­als have had a well-doc­u­mented search for a long-term so­lu­tion in cen­ter field, but Harper has never re­ally been con­sid­ered that an­swer. Talk of him join­ing the Na­tion­als’ ma­jor league team this sea­son fo­cused on Jayson Werth shift­ing to cen­ter and Harper slot­ting into right.

John­son feels that’s partly be­cause of a lack of ex­pe­ri­ence else­where. Harper played 51 games in right field last sea­son and 37 in left.

“Just be­cause he’s got a big, strong arm, that doesn’t mean I have to just play him in right field,” John­son said. “Who knows what the con­fig­u­ra­tion is go­ing to be to­mor­row, much less Open­ing Day or next sea­son? I’m giv­ing him an op­por­tu­nity to go ex­press some tal­ent and see how far along he is.”

Harper’s quest to make the ros­ter out of spring train­ing may have been de­railed a bit by the time missed with the in­jury, but Na­tion­als gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo said he doesn’t be­lieve it will af­fect the team’s decision-mak­ing process.

“It’s kind of set him back a lit­tle bit as far as get­ting his at-bats,” Rizzo said. “But we feel he has enough time to get back in the swing of things.”

The Na­tion­als have been pleased with Harper’s progress this spring. He’s 5-for-11 with a walk and two strike­outs in four games. He’s shown great speed on the base paths, along with some in­ex­pe­ri­ence. He’s also shown im­prove­ments in the out­field.

As for whether a decision has been made on Harper for the Na­tion­als’ Open­ing Day ros­ter, Rizzo points to the re­main­ing 19 games on the Na­tion­als’ spring sched­ule. There’s still time.

PHO­TO­GRAPH COUR­TESY OF THE AU­COIN FAM­ILY

It has been an event­ful win­ter for Washington Cap­i­tals for­ward Keith Au­coin, a mi­nor-league jour­ney­man now in the midst of an NHL play­off run, a run made all the sweeter when his wife, Mau­reen, gave birth to son Bray­den on Feb. 29.

Harper

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