Nationals to bring up top prospect Bryce Harper
By HOWARD FENDRICH AP Sports Writer
Bryce Harper tends to do things ahead of schedule, so it should surprise no one that he's already heading to the major leagues.
The 19-year-old outfielder, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft, will be recalled by the Washington Nationals from Triple-A Syracuse on Saturday.
"I'm going to put him in left field and let him play," manager Davey Johnson said Friday in Los Angeles, where he will bat Harper seventh for the final two games of a series at Dodger Stadium. "Harp had a great spring training, he's a phenomenal talent, and he's been swinging the bat down there. But we have a need here for a left-handed bat, and he's the guy that fits the role. As far as I'm concerned, he's earned the right to get the opportunity."
Widely regarded as baseball's top prospect, Harper will take the roster spot of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who is going on the 15-day disabled list - retroactive to April 21 - with inflammation in his right shoulder.
"Suffice it to say, this isn't the coming-out party for Bryce that we had in mind," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said on a conference call. "This isn't the optimal situation developmentally."
Harper was the first overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft, and Zimmerman was the fourth selection in 2005. Once they get to appear in the same lineup, things should be even more interesting for the Nationals, who took an NL-best 14-5 record into Friday night's game.
"Bryce is a very talented player and he's going to help us win games. I don't think they would call up anyone that's not going to help us," Zimmerman said. "He can help us in a lot of ways. With as much stuff that's going to happen tomorrow with the media and everything, I think he's ready to handle the situation."
Zimmerman is batting .224 with a home run and seven RBIs in 15 games. Johnson said his third baseman will begin throwing Tuesday and start swinging a bat in a week.
"We all work so hard in the offseason to get ready, and my body was feeling great. And then for something like this to happen that you have no control over, it's very frustrating," Zimmerman said. "But I have to stay positive, and we'll take our time to get it right. These guys will keep doing what they've been doing the first 19 games, and I'll be back before you know it. It's definitely better to get this done and get it out of the way, just so I won't have to worry about it for the rest of the year."
The Nationals also placed reliever Brad Lidge on the 15-day disabled list with an abdominal wall strain, the second of the team's three potential closers to go on the shelf. Lidge, whose move is retroactive to April 22, had been sharing closer duties with Henry Rodriguez while Drew Storen recovers from elbow surgery.
"It's pretty frustrating right now," Lidge said. "You want to be there for your teammates the whole year. I haven't had anything like this before, so I'm concerned about that."
Johnson expects Lidge to be sidelined at least a month.
"It's in between a sports hernia and a hernia," Johnson said. "He's going to get examined again in Philadelphia by the top hernia guy in the country and have an MRI and check it out further. It's bothered him for the last three weeks and it's just gotten worse and worse. But he was trying to play through it, and it got real severe when I warmed him up in San Diego."
Washington also recalled right-hander Ryan Perry from Triple-A Syracuse.
Harper skipped his final year of high school, earned his GED, then played one season of junior college baseball at the College of Southern Nevada to become eligible for the draft and get a head-start on his professional career. He signed a five-year, $9.9 million contract, including $6.5 million in signing bonuses, with the Nationals in August 2010.
Rizzo has stated repeatedly that he thinks all young players should spend time at each level of the minors before moving to the big leagues. So while Johnson wanted Rizzo to consider letting Harper skip Triple-A, the team sent him to Syracuse after he hit .286 in spring training this year.
But with their top two hitters - Zimmerman and left fielder Michael Morse, who's been out all season with a problematic back muscle - sidelined by injuries, the team decided to bring up Harper now. He was hitting .250 with a homer and three RBIs in 72 at-bats at Syracuse.
"We still have a very good and committed developmental plan for Bryce in place. I still believe very passionately in the plan, and am committed to it. But it was expedited by the circumstances," Rizzo said. "We felt that we needed to bring in an impactful, left-handed bat that could play the corner outfield."
Rizzo headed to Rochester, N.Y., this week to watch Harper play in three games for Syracuse - and liked what he saw, including how Harper fared in the field.
Harper played primarily catcher in college, but the Nationals immediately shifted him to right field when they drafted him. They also wanted him to play some center field at Syracuse, because that's a spot where Washington needs help.
"He's swinging the bat extremely well right now, and looked comfortable in left field," Rizzo said. "We didn't bring Bryce up there to sit on the bench. He's going to get everyday reps and get ample at-bats."
The GM wouldn't say whether Harper necessarily will stay in the majors, even after Zimmerman returns, or is definitely going to go back to the minors.
"This is a very confident person, and we expect him to do well in the major leagues," Rizzo said. "He's the type of guy who will handle anything that is thrown at him and will be the better for it."
The Nationals are off to a fast start primarily because of their outstanding starting pitching. But the offense has been inconsistent.
Morse, the team's cleanup hitter, isn't expected back for weeks. Zimmerman, the No. 3 hitter, could return as soon as May 6.
"We don't think it's a debilitating injury," Rizzo said, "but it takes time to heal."