Bob Harkins


Nats not worried about Bryce Harper’s scuffles in AAA


Bryce Harper’s bat has been pretty quiet down at Class AAA Syracuse, as he is hitting just .232 with no home runs and one RBI in 14 games.

But Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo isn’t worried, telling CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman that Harper, one of the top prospects in baseball, is progressing just fine.

Rizzo insists that Harper has a good approach at the plate and is hitting the ball hard, even if the results haven’t been there.

“I think it’s an adjustment period for him,” Rizzo said before Thursday’s game against the Astros. “It’s a different kind of pitching than he’s ever had in the minor leagues. You’ve got some hard-throwing prospects, and you also have some veteran, AAA/AAAA type of pitchers that can really pitch and command their stuff. They’re not the blazing fastballs, but they try to get you out different ways.”

Rizzo also said that Harper’s conversion to center field is progressing as planned, despite a pair of errors at the position so far. “He’s taken good routes. His throwing is really improved.”

With all the hype around Harper, it’s easy to forget that he is only 19 and in his second season in professional baseball. The fact that he’s playing on the AAA level is impressive enough, and his track record suggests that he will adjust to the new challenge in time.

As Zuckerman points out, the Nationals can keep Harper from reaching free agency until after the 2018 season if they wait one more week to call him up. But it seems likely they will wait much longer to give him his first taste of the major leagues.

The 10-4 Nats currently reside in first place in the NL East on the strength of a pitching staff that is allowing just over three runs per game.

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Troy Tulowitzki admits defensive struggles are ‘in my head’

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While discussing his defense during spring training of 2011, this is what Troy Tulowitzki had to say:

“I definitely take pride in playing great defense. Now that I’ve won by my first Gold Glove and my second Fielding Bible award, people who have questioned that I was too big to play shortstop, I think I’ve kinda put those people to sleep. Now they realize I can play the position.

It certainly isn’t easy being this big of a guy, 200-plus pounds, playing shortstop. I think guys like Cal (Ripken), A-Rod and Derek (Jeter) obviously, the bigger shortstops kind of changed things. They’re letting guys actually try out there now, if they’re athletic enough.”

Tulowitzki pays attention to UZR ratings (though he doesn’t necessarily trust them) as well as Gold Gloves and Fielding Bible Awards, and covets defensive honors as much as Silver Sluggers and All-Star appearances. So you know that his struggles in the field so far this season are bothering him.

The All-Star shortstop has made six errors already this season, including a pair of two-error games within a span of four nights. He made just six errors in all of 2011, and insists that he is healthy. Nonetheless, Tulo sat out Wednesday night’s victory over the Padres.

Colorado Rockies manager Jim Tracy said the day off was pre-planned, but it seems likely that the move was made to give Tulo a chance to relax and get a handle on his scuffling. In fact, Tulowitzki admitted to Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post that his defensive miscues were getting into his head:

“I think about it … Yeah, it’s in my head,” he said. “I’m taking the field and thinking about it. I never thought about defense. I just go out there and play, and if I make an error, I made an error. But I wasn’t worried about it. So, yeah, I think about it. It’s in my head. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t in my head. I think about it because I care.”

It’s a pretty open assessment from Tulowitzki, who is also hitting just .244 so far this season. You would hope that the rest helps him clear his head. The last thing you want to see is one of the game’s great defensive players suddenly turn into Chuck Knoblauch.
Rockies veteran Jason Giambi has done his part to help his friend, showing Tulowitzki a highlight reel of some of his top plays.

“People, fans, media, teammates, we all have to realize the Tulo is human,” Giambi said.

That may be true, but the superhero version (see below) is much more enjoyable to watch. Here’s hoping he hurries back.

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Catching: The toughest job in sports


During a week-long stint at spring training in Arizona this year, I spent a lot of time with catchers.

I learned a lot about their craft, about what they go through on a daily basis. About the stresses of the job, the grind of the six-month long season, as well as the non-stop mental challenges that are equally as grueling as the physical ones.

I talked to guys who can hit and guys who can’t, guys who have been through the wars and guys who are just coming into their own. It was an interesting journey, the result of which manifested itself in this package I put together over at

He’s a scout and a coach. He’s a psychiatrist and a self-help therapist. He’s the first one to sacrifice his body and the last line of defense. And if he wants to make big-time money, he’s going to have to hit, too.

He’s got the responsibilities of a quarterback and yet most likely will receive the notoriety of an offensive lineman. Want to be a catcher? Good luck. It’s not going to be easy. In fact, you won’t find any sporting venture that’s tougher.

I hope you enjoy.

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