Davey Johnson thinks Bryce Harper’s ailing knee might have contributed to last night’s lack of hustle

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After Nationals manager Davey Johnson bowed out of last night’s game due to dehydration, bench coach Randy Knorr took over and quickly made his voice heard. As D.J. Short described earlier, Harper weakly grounded out to Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy. Assuming it was a routine out, Harper hung his head and ran at a light pace. Murphy bobbled the ball but recovered and managed to still throw Harper out by several steps. It’s tough to say if Harper would have beaten it out even if he had been running at max effort, but there was at least a chance.

Knorr was critical of Harper’s lack of effort when speaking to the media after the game. He said, “I don’t think he does it intentionally, but he’s gonna have to start picking it up a little bit.”

Johnson didn’t get a chance to address the situation until today. He is less critical of his outfielder and thinks his nagging knee problem may have been part of the reason for the less-than-100% effort. Via Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post:

Harper still receives treatment on the left knee, which he wears a pad to protect.

“I think it’s still an issue,” Johnson said. “I think it’s probably there. He can probably play with it. But if he headfirst slides or dives in the outfield, it’s probably going to flare up. Hopefully, he’ll get through the season.”

[…]

“My opinion is, you take nothing for granted,” Johnson said. “You hit a groundball, the guy could boot it. You run. Anytime you quit going hard, it’s a losing attitude. With him, I’m between knowing if he’s babying his knee, because he’s usually 100 percent. But I’ll talk to him.”

Harper went on the disabled list and missed 31 games between May 27 and June 30 with bursitis in his left knee. He has been held out of the lineup on several occasions since then to give the knee a rest.

Johnson did say mentioned he noticed Harper not hustling at other times, but not often, saying, “I haven’t seen a lot of it. I’ve seen a little of it.”

Harper, a 20-year-old in his second season in the Majors, has an .892 OPS in 404 trips to the plate.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.