Bryce Harper batting third for Nationals would make history

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Ryan Zimmerman has been the Nationals’ primary No. 3 hitter for several years now, but manager Davey Johnson said yesterday that he’s leaning strongly toward moving Bryce Harper into the third spot this season because “he’s a tough out, he doesn’t swing at bad pitches, and he uses the whole field.”

He’s also still just 20 years old and hitters that young simply don’t hit third very often. In fact, in the entire history of baseball only one 20-year-old hitter has started more than 100 games batting third: Hall of Famer Al Kaline for the Tigers in 1955. He hit .340 that year and finished runner-up to Yogi Berra for AL MVP.

In addition to Kaline the only other 20-year-olds to start more than 80 games as No. 3 hitters are Arky Vaughan for the Pirates in 1932, Cesar Cedeno for the Astros in 1971, and Ken Griffey Jr. for the Mariners in 1990. Harper would be the fifth all time, assuming Johnson sticks with his plan for at least half the season.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.