Nationals fans show true colors, give up after 6 innings in Bryce Harper's return

Nationals fans show true colors, give up after 6 innings in Bryce Harper's return

WASHINGTON — The fans came out hot and grabbed all the headlines. On, it read “Bryce booed heavily by raucous D.C. crowd.” However, as the game wore on, Nationals fans began to show their true colors. It was a sad display from a fan base that wanted to make a statement.

Walking the concourse before Tuesday night’s game, there was a buzz in the stadium. Nationals fans came out in full force with signs and defaced Harper jerseys. There was even a clown, or three. When Harper was introduced for his first at-bat, the boo birds came raining down on the once-beloved superstar.

The first at-bat was electric. Fans jeered Harper as Max Scherzer pelted the strike zone with upper-90s heat. It was a spectacle. It was what sports are all about. When Harper struck out, the fans erupted. They had their moment, and the upper hand, but that soon would fade.

After another strikeout, with Nationals fans feeling good, Harper laced a double to right, much to the dismay of the home fans, who, for the third time in the game, actually paid attention to what was going on.

Then, things took a drastic change.

With the Phillies leading 5-0, Harper batted with one on and two out. Suddenly, the boos weren’t as loud and the once boisterous fans weren’t so boisterous. The fan base had lost steam after three at-bats and less than two hours. 

As the sixth run crossed the plate, I heard one fan get up from his seat, look at his friend and say, “I hope we get them next time,” as he proceeded toward the exit. In the bottom of the sixth inning, fans raced toward the exit faster than the presidents who raced around the field a few innings earlier.

Signs once held proudly were left abandoned.

The seats, once full of nearly 35,000-plus fans, were empty.

All it took was six innings.

The Phillies fans that made the trip, many of whom camped out in right field to greet Harper each inning, and, perhaps, make him feel more comfortable than he otherwise would have felt, took over the stadium. While it was the Nationals fans who showed up in great numbers and voice early on, it was the Phillies fans who ultimately showed why Harper wanted to play for them for the next 13 years.

… and then this happened.

Harper crushed one 458 feet and the only fans left in the park, wearing Phillies red, gave their new hero a well-deserved applause.

You see, I don’t think Nationals fans were here to boo Harper. They were here to boo, so that Phillies fans couldn’t claim that they took over the stadium. It worked for the length of three at-bats and they simply gave up and went home, while the Phillies fans remained.

After all was said and done, the Phillies fans felt authentic, the Nationals fans felt fake and it was a huge night for Bryce Harper and not for the people who came here hoping to see him fail.

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Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

CLEARWATER — Aaron Nola did not have a bad season in 2019 by any stretch of the imagination. He made every start and went 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA. There are pitchers all over baseball who would love to have a season like that.

But it's indisputable that Nola's 2019 season was not nearly as good as his 2018 season. In 2018, he was brilliant. He went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA. He finished third in the National League Cy Young voting.

Nola's WHIP in 2018 was a sterling 0.975.

Last season, it was 1.265.

After pitching two scoreless innings in his spring debut Sunday, Nola reflected on his 2019 season.

"I didn't get ahead," he said.

He's right.

Check out the numbers.

In 2018, Nola threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. That ranked second in the majors to St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas (71.1).

Last season, Nola's first-pitch strike percentage slipped to 62.3. That ranked 39th in the majors, well behind leader Max Scherzer (70.4) and teammate Zach Eflin, who ranked fourth (68.6).

Nola ended up walking 3.6 batters per nine innings last season, up from 2.5 in his big year of 2018.

So, it's no surprise what Nola is working on this spring.

"Just fill up the strike zone and throw the ball down a lot," he said. "That's kind of the key. Get ahead of guys and stay ahead of guys. I just want to focus on having that tunnel vision around the plate."

If you've paid attention to the things Phillies pitchers have said this spring and even late last season, you know they weren't always comfortable with the practices of former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young. The theme in this camp, at least among the pitchers, can be summed up in one word.


"I'm just going to simplify some things and throw my fastball for strikes," Nola said. "I don't want to throw too hard too early in the count."

Nola pointed to his outing Sunday. He allowed a hit to open the game then got a double-play ball with a strike down in the zone.

"I want to try to get ground balls and I felt like I did that today," Nola said. "I got a double play and it's satisfying to get double plays."

Nola, 26, has so far enjoyed bonding with Bryan Price, his fourth pitching coach in as many seasons. Price espouses some traditional philosophies, like keeping the ball down. In that regard, he is similar to Bob McClure and Rick Kranitz, two former Phillies pitching coaches that Nola thrived under.

"That's been my mindset ever since I started to pitch and it is really stressed now," he said of pitching down in the zone. "I think that's what pitching should be and that's what we've always learned how to do.

"I think the state of the game is to simplify things and get back to that part of it. I look forward to my one-on-one bullpen sessions with (Price). When you have a bad game or not as good of a game as you want to go back to basics in the bullpen sessions. I've had previous pitching coaches like that and it has helped me a lot. Just to simplify things is going to go a long way."

Nola believes if he does a better job getting ahead early in counts that his curveball and particularly his changeup will become better weapons for him in 2020. His changeup blossomed under McClure and Kranitz during their stints in Philadelphia.

"My changeup wasn't as consistent as it was in previous years," Nola said. "I am just trying to get back to throwing that for strikes down more.

"When I'm throwing everything for strikes, I have three pitches."

Manager Joe Girardi has not named an opening day starter yet, but Nola is expected to be the guy when he does.

And when Nola takes the mound March 26 in Miami, his goal will be this:

Strike 1.

That's a big reason he had a great season in 2018 and why he slipped some in 2019.

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Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies ace Aaron Nola made his first start of the spring Sunday while their new No. 2, Zack Wheeler, is slated to debut Saturday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Wheeler has been throwing to hitters at the Phils' minor-league complex.

Fifth starter candidates remain in focus as Vince Velasquez makes his first start on Monday against the Orioles in Clearwater.

Nick Pivetta, another candidate, made his first start Saturday and showed a potential new weapon.

Lefty Ranger Suarez is being stretched out as a starter and could be a dark-horse candidate for the fifth job. He will get a start Tuesday at Bradenton while Jake Arrieta starts in Clearwater that day. Suarez pitched well out of the bullpen last year but was groomed as a starter in the minors.

Zach Eflin will make his spring debut Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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