Tracking Bryce Harper’s major league debut

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We’ll provide updates throughout the night as baseball’s top prospect, 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper, makes his MLB debut against the Dodgers. Here’s the lineup, via Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post:

First pitch is scheduled for 9:10 p.m. ET. Washington’s Stephen Strasburg is facing LA’s Chad Billingsley.

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6:58 PM: From Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times comes this shot of Harper speaking to the media at Dodger Stadium before pregame batting practice. “I’m not actually that nervous,” he told reporters.

source:

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7:03 PM: CBS Sports’ Scott Miller says Harper’s mom, dad, sister and brother-in-law will be in attendance.

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7:47 PM: It should come as no surprise that Harper, who once smashed a 502-foot dinger during a high school home run derby contest, absolutely demolishes pitches in batting practice. Via Kilgore:

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9:15 PM: We’re underway. CSNWashington.com’s Mark Zuckerman brings the all-important uniform update:

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9:31 PM: Harper walks to the plate to heavy boos from the Dodger Stadium crowd, takes three pitches (two balls, one strike), then grounds out on a chopper to Billingsley. It’s 0-0 in the second inning.

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9:35 PM: Hernandez snapped this photo of Harper’s first at-bat from the Dodger Stadium press box:

source:

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9:59 PM: Harper just barely avoided a full-speed collision with Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond on a bloop single by Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. in the third inning. The ball fell in between the two Nats.

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10:20 PM: Harper flew out softly to left field in his second trip to the plate after working another 2-1 count.

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10:54 PM: Harper blasted a double to the base of the center field wall in his third at-bat, after working a 3-2 count. He threw his helmet off heading into second base, showing off a sort of hybrid mohawk.

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11:13 PM: Harper threw a bullet to home plate in the bottom of the seventh inning, nearly nabbing Dodgers infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. as he tried to score from second base on a ball slapped into left field. But Wilson Ramos dropped the ball while applying the tag. The game is tied at 1-1 as we move to the top of the eighth.

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11:54 PM: Harper drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to left field in the top of the ninth inning. Ramos then added an RBI single, giving the Nationals a late 3-1 lead over Los Angeles.

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12:09 AM: A fan ran onto the field in the bottom of the ninth inning, interrupting play. Both television broadcasts avoided showing him for obvious reasons, but Kilgore passes along a mini recap:

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12:18 AM: Nationals setup man Henry Rodriguez surrendered two runs on three hits while recording only two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Dodgers tied it 3-3 and we’re heading to extras.

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12:37 AM: Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp hit a walkoff home run over the center field fence to win it in the bottom of the 10th inning. Harper finished 1-for-3 with an RBI. A fantastic night of baseball all around.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.