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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bryce Harper accused of being concerned with preserving hitting streak

Bryce Harper NationalsWashington Nationals manager Matt Williams made an example out of Bryce Harper over the weekend by benching him after Harper chose not to hustle down the line on a ground ball back to the pitcher. Some felt that Williams should have given Harper leeway since he has been nursing a quad injury, but the manager apparently felt the injury was not serious enough to serve as an excuse.

On Monday morning, Tom Boswell of the Washington Post held his weekly chat with fans and was asked if he thought Harper deserved to be benched. He shared some interesting information that is worth a read.

Within the team it is certainly seen as appropriate.

The team was specifically told several days ago that the next guy who doesn’t run out a ball is coming out of the game. As to the quad, Harper missed a game on Weds that happened to be against Jose Fernandez. Other players always look for “coincidences.” The next game, he laid down a bunt against Wainwright, flew to first and looked fine. After he went 0-for-4, he threw his helmet. Turns out that 0-fer snapped a nine-game hitting streak. Not much of a streak. But teammates noticed. I assume his quad really did hurt him. But the Nats, over the last year, have certainly narrowed their eyes in looking at Harper’s motivations. The enormous benefits of the doubt — on whether he’s really more about the team or about himself or about both — that he got when he was 19 are not going to obtain  when you are in your third full year in the big leagues.

Remember, no manager would do this — it’s dramatic, unequivocal and got national attention — unless 1) the player involved had a history of similar behavior, 2) the organization supported the move and the manager knew that he would get full backing and 3) the team had been “refreshed” on the need to run balls out.

Harper is 0-for-4 in his career against Fernandez, who is one of the best young arms in the game. We know Harper has a tendency to get frustrated with himself, and that would not have been the first time he spiked his helmet after a rough at-bat. The assertion that the Nationals have “narrowed their eyes in looking at Harper’s motivations” is relatively serious.

If Boswell was passing along what he heard from other players, that could be even worse. Harper came into the league with a reputation of being a young kid who is cocky and arrogant, but I personally have always seen him as a team player who wants to win. I’ve been wrong before.

H/T Hardball Talk



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