Amid Bryce Harper's recent struggles, there was some (silly) talk in the D.C. area on Wednesday regarding the chances of a possible demotion to the minors. Some of that was brought on by poorly-handled comments from his own manager. Fortunately, Harper has managed to put that narrative to rest in a hurry.
Harper played hero for the Nationals on Thursday afternoon by launching a walk-off two-run homer in a 5-3 win over the Mets in 13 innings. It was an opposite-field shot into the left field seats. With the win, the Nationals moved to 62-51 on the season, 4 1/2 games in from of the struggling Braves in the National League East.
While Thursday's walk-off was a nice moment for Harper, one game isn't going to change everything. He simply hasn't looked right since returning from thumb surgery, batting just .224 with three home runs and a 38/16 K/BB ratio over 32 games. The struggles have clearly had an impact on him mentally, as he's constantly tweaking his stance and swing. Still, Harper wouldn't be the first player who needs some time to get back to normal after a hand injury. They can really do a number on a hitter's swing.
We have set some impossibly high standards for Harper, but it's easy to forget that he's just 21 years old. Even though he's in his third season in the majors, he's currently the second-youngest player in the National League behind the newly-promoted Javier Baez. I'll concede that perhaps this will end up looking like a lost season for him, but don't take what he has done this season as some sort of statement for where his career is headed. He still has plenty of time to emerge as one of the game's best. Thursday's walk-off blast should be a reminder of that.
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Baez Does It Again
Cubs rookie second baseman Javier Baez hit a game-winning homer in extra innings in his major league debut on Tuesday night and he continued to impress Thursday by going 3-for-4 with two home runs and four RBI. It was a pretty good idea to break him into the majors at Coors Field, don't you think?
After hitting an RBI single in the third inning, Baez smacked a solo homer off the left-field foul pole in the sixth and later added a two-run bomb in the eighth. The second home run was especially impressive, as he reached a pitch low and away and deposited it to the opposite field. His bat is unbelievably quick.
Strikeouts are going to be an issue for Baez -- he fanned nearly 30 percent of the time between Double- and Triple-A -- but we're already getting a look at the power he can provide from a middle infield position. Putting the fantasy angle aside, it's exciting to see the pieces begin to fall into place with the Cubs. Baez will make his Wrigley Field debut Friday afternoon against the Rays and it should be a lot of fun.
Bad News/Good News for Blue Jays
Brett Lawrie's return to the Blue Jays only ended up lasting one game, as he landed right back on the disabled list Thursday with his third oblique strain in the past two years. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulous has already ruled him out for the rest of August and it's possible that he'll miss a big chunk of September too.
Lawrie burst onto the fantasy scene as a rookie in 2011, but he owns an underwhelming .261/.316/.406 batting line over the past three seasons and has missed large chunks of time due to injury. Some of this can be attributed to bad luck, but his training regimen and aggressive style of play both likely play a part, as well. With the injuries piling up, it's fair to start to wonder if he'll ever meet the potential fantasy owners were hoping for when he first broke into the league.
While the Lawrie news is a bummer, there were some positive developments for the Blue Jays on Thursday. Adam Lind (foot) hit a pair of doubles in his first minor league rehab game with the Gulf Coast Blue Jays and appears on track to be activated from the disabled list next Monday. Meanwhile, Edwin Encarnacion (quad) could begin a rehab stint of his own this weekend, setting up a return at some point next week.
AL Quick Hits: Jon Lester struck out eight batters in a three-hit shutout against the Twins on Thursday … David Ortiz was scratched from Thursday's lineup due to wet field conditions … Melky Cabrera left Thursday's game after he was hit in the right elbow by a pitch, but X-rays came back negative … Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas reports that Rangers outfielder Alex Rios has cleared revocable waivers … Rick Porcello allowed one run over seven innings Thursday in a tough-luck loss to the Yankees … Astros manager Bo Porter said Thursday that George Springer only had a minor setback with his left quad injury and that he'll be evaluated Friday before the team decides the next step … Chris Carter homered twice and knocked in four runs in a loss to the Phillies on Thursday … Dustin Ackley went 2-for-4 with a home run, four RBI, a walk, and two runs scored Thursday vs. the White Sox … Adam Eaton (back) was held out of Thursday's lineup, but hopes to play Friday … Jed Lowrie (finger) missed his third straight game Thursday … Zach Putnam (shoulder) will be activated from the disabled list Friday … Dexter Fowler (intercostal) is expected to begin a minor league rehab assignment Friday with Triple-A Oklahoma City … The Red Sox optioned Mookie Betts to Triple-A Pawtucket on Thursday with an eye on giving him regular at-bats … Displaced by rookie shortstop Chris Taylor, Brad Miller has begun taking ground balls at second and third base in preparation for a utility role … Ubaldo Jimenez (ankle) will rejoin the Orioles' rotation on Saturday against the Cardinals … Jeremy Guthrie allowed two runs in a complete-game win over the Diamondbacks on Thursday … Carlos Carrasco will return from the bullpen to start Sunday against the Yankees … Shane Greene fired eight scoreless innings in a win over the Tigers on Thursday … Caleb Joseph hit his fourth homer in his last four games in Thursday's win over the Blue Jays … J.A. Happ allowed two runs over eight innings and struck out a career-high 12 batters Thursday, but was handed a tough-luck loss against the Orioles … Willie Bloomquist will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Friday … Scott Merkin of MLB.com writes that there's a "better-than-average chance" that the White Sox promote 2014 first-round pick Carlos Rodon to the majors this season to work in relief …
NL Quick Hits: Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Thursday that there's still a "chance" that Andrew McCutchen (rib) will avoid the disabled list … Adam Wainwright improved to 14-6 after allowing two runs over seven innings in a win over the Red Sox on Thursday … The Cubs have reportedly claimed Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels off revocable waivers, but it's unlikely the two sides work out a trade … Hyun-Jin Ryu gave up just two hits over seven scoreless innings in a win over the Angels on Thursday … Wily Peralta won his 14th game of the season after holding the Giants to one run over 6 2/3 innings on Thursday while notching a career-high nine strikeouts … Brandon Belt was held out of Thursday's lineup due to illness … Homer Bailey tossed seven scoreless innings in a win over the Indians on Thursday … Josh Beckett is expected to be placed on the disabled list with a hip injury and will be replaced in the rotation by Roberto Hernandez, who was acquired from the Phillies on Thursday … Jenrry Mejia is dealing with right calf tightness, but it's not believed to be serious … Wilson Ramos was activated from the paternity leave list Thursday … Angel Pagan (back) went 2-for-5 in his return from the disabled list Thursday … Neil Walker (back) was held out of the Pirates' lineup again Thursday … Kolten Wong clubbed a pair of solo homers Thursday against the Red Sox … Edinson Volquez struck out seven batters over seven scoreless innings in a win over the Marlins on Thursday … Ryan Howard connected for a grand slam in a comeback victory over the Astros on Thursday night … The Diamondbacks called up prospect Jake Lamb on Thursday and plan to use him as their regular third baseman moving forward … Kyle Hendricks allowed two runs over eight innings in Thursday's win over the Rockies and now holds a 2.10 ERA across his first five starts in the majors … Marlins reliever Dan Jennings was diagnosed with a concussion after he was hit in the head by a line drive on Thursday …