Nationals manager Matt Williams: “I’ve got Bryce’s back, in every way”

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Matt Williams met with Bryce Harper yesterday and then made a concerted effort to diffuse any notion of perceived animosity between the Nationals manager and his 21-year-old star.

“I’ve got to let you guys know something: I’ve got Bryce’s back, in every way,” Williams said prior to the Nationals’ game against the Rockies. “And that will not change.”

The relationship between Harper and Williams was called into question after the outfielder openly questioned Monday night’s lineup, which had Harper (just activated off the DL) batting sixth and in left field, with Ryan Zimmerman moving back to his old position at third base.

Harper said he believed Zimmerman should remain in left field, with Anthony Rendon at third base and Danny Espinosa at second base. Without expressing it explicitly, Harper suggested he would rather play center field, with Denard Span the odd man out in the Nationals’ suddenly overcrowded outfield.

Williams talked to Harper afterward and made it clear he’s simply trying to put the young slugger in the best position to succeed and help his team win.

“I want him to play every day, and I want him to play the way Bryce knows how to play,” Williams said. “He’s going to hit in different spots in the lineup, and he’s OK with that. And he’s going to play in different spots in the lineup, and he’s OK with that, too.

“I know there’s a lot made of it, and I know there’s a lot of discussion about it. But he and I are good. There’s no rift. We have a conversation every day. I’ve got his back, and I support him all the way. I’m happy to write his name in the lineup every day. Who wouldn’t be?”

Harper didn’t make himself available during pregame media availability in the Nationals’ clubhouse.

Teammates seem less concerned with what Harper says and more concerned with making sure he stays healthy and productive, as he was during Monday night’s win, in which he reached base twice, drove in a run and made two impressive throws from left field.

“He brings a lot of energy to our team when he plays this way,” shortstop Ian Desmond said after Monday’s game. “The way he went about his business today, putting pressure on the defense, made a good throw back to first base there … that’s the kind of stuff that he does. When he plays, he impacts the game. But we need him out there every day.”

Williams echoed those sentiments yesterday, saying he’s not concerned with how other players might have perceived Harper’s comments.

“No, I let him know that I support you, that part of my job is to do that and that I admire his talents and the way he plays the game and how happy we are to have him on our team,” Williams said. “That’s the extent of it. That will not change, and there’s no problem between he and I, certainly. There never has been. I respect him, he respects me. Like I said, I’m really happy to put Harper in that lineup every day. Because it gives us a very good chance to go out there and win a ballgame.”

Madison Bumgarner has been competing in rodeos under a fake name

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The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly and Zach Buchanan report that Diamondbacks starter Madison Bumgarner has been competing in rodeos under a fake name as recently as December. The fake name is Mason Saunders. Bumgarner explains that “Mason” is shortened from “Madison,” while “Saunders” is his wife’s maiden name.

Bumgarner — err, Saunders — and one of his rodeo partners, Jaxson Tucker, won $26,560 in a team-roping rodeo competition in December. The Rancho Rio Arena posted a picture of the pair on Facebook, highlighting that they roped four steers in 31.36 seconds.

As Baggarly and Buchanan point out, Bumgarner also pointed out in a rodeo competition last March, just a couple days before pitching in a Cactus League game versus the Athletics, back when he was still with the Giants.

Bumgarner suffered bruised ribs and a left shoulder AC sprain in 2017 when he got into a dirt bike accident. Given that, Bumgarner’s latest extracurricular activity does raise a concern for the Diamondbacks, who inked him to a five-year, $85 million contract two months ago. Baggarly and Buchanan asked Bumgarner about such a concern. Bumgarner referred them to the club’s managing partner Ken Kendrick. Kendrick directed them to GM Mike Hazen. Hazen declined speaking about “specific contract language.” For what it’s worth, Bumgarner says he primarily uses his right hand to rope.

The jig is up on Bumgarner’s hobby. He jokingly said to The Athletic’s pair, “I’m nervous about this interview right now.” He added, “I’m upset with both you two.”