Bryce Harper’s hustle (or lack thereof) was the big topic of conversation following the Nationals’ 3-2 loss to the Mets last night at Nationals Park.
With two runners on and two out in the bottom of the eighth inning, Harper hit a weak grounder to Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy. Assuming that he would be out by a mile, Harper put his head down in disgust and didn’t run at 100 percent. Murphy bobbled the ball, but recovered and threw out Harper by a few steps at first base.
While it’s possible that Harper still would have been out even if he busted it down the line like he usually does, Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com notes that the play drew some sharp criticism from Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr.
“The thing about Bryce right now that’s tough: He gets frustrated,” said bench coach Randy Knorr, who had to take over for an ill Dave Johnson mid-game. “I don’t think he does it intentionally, but he’s gonna have to start picking it up a little bit, because we’ve got everybody else doing it. He gets frustrated at times and it just comes out of him. It’s something we’ve got to fix.”
“It’s hard for me to say,” Knorr said. “I’m not 20 years old in the big leagues and all this stuff going on around me. Something that we’ve got to get to the bottom of and keep talking to him, because eventually we’re just going to have to take him out of the game.”
This comes one day after teammate Jayson Werth told reporters that he’d really like to see Harper “settle in” and “focus in for a month and see what he could do.” Harper addressed the eighth inning play after the game by saying, “I guess I’ll learn from it.”
To be fair, there were other reasons the Nationals lost last night. In fact, the key play of the game occurred in the top of the eighth inning when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made an ill-advised off-balance throw which allowed Daniel Murphy to score what proved to be the winning run. Zimmerman defended his decision after the game by saying he’d “throw that every time” and that Murphy would have been out at home plate if Adam LaRoche was able to field his wild throw. But that’s not nearly as fun to talk about, is it?
Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.
While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.
Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”
He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”
Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.
According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”
Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.