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Intentional or not, Harper leads MLB in walks

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Intentional or not, Harper leads MLB in walks

MIAMI — From the day he was drafted, Bryce Harper seemed like a strong candidate to lead the majors in something before long, whether home runs, slugging percentage, outfield assists or something along those lines.

It may come as a bit of a surprise, though, that Harper currently leads all MLB hitters in a stat that has nothing to do with his power or arm or overall athletic ability. No, right now the 22-year-old leads the majors in walks.

Entering Friday night’s series opener against the Marlins, Harper has drawn 15 bases on balls, one more than the Mets’ Curtis Granderson and more than twice as many as anyone else on the Nationals roster.

So, is that the product of a concerted effort on Harper’s part to draw more walks or of the manner in which opposing teams are pitching him?

“I think it’s more pitchers not giving me pitches to hit,” he said. “I’m just trying to be as patient as I can and get my pitch to hit and not give in to what they’re doing.”

Indeed, opponents have gone out of their way at times not to pitch to Harper. He has already been intentionally walked five times in 16 games, also tops in the majors and more times than he drew intentional free passes in either of the last two seasons.

So, Ryan Zimmerman’s presence behind Harper in the Nationals’ lineup has played a role in this. Not that anyone’s complaining.

“I think they’re going to pick who they want to pitch to: me or Zim,” Harper said. “I mean, pick your poison.”

Intentional or not, Harper has done a noticeably better job so far this season forcing pitchers to come to him instead of chasing stuff thrown off the plate. And then making sure he does take a healthy cut when he gets something that looks good.

“The biggest thing is not missing the pitch I do get, and knowing if I do miss that pitch, it’s going to be a tough at-bat, because I’m probably not going to get another one,” he said. “So I’m just taking more walks, trying to be as patient as I can and committing to that pitch that I get over the plate.”

On the flip side, Harper has struck out 22 times, tied for second-most in the NL. It’s a bit of an odd combination at the moment, but one the Nationals don’t expect to continue for long.

“I think it’s probably not typical of his season,” manager Matt Williams said. “I think the strikeout numbers will come down. I think the walks will stay the same the deeper he gets into the season, the timing and the grind and all of that. I think you’ll see those numbers get a little different. I think the walks will still be there, which is important for us.”

Whether Harper can keep up this pace or not, the Nationals know an improved walk rate can only be considered a good sign for the young slugger and for the team as a whole.

“For him, it’s important for him to do that,” Williams said. “We always know that he’s got the ability to be a high on-base guy, and at the same time be a power guy and be a run producer. So that’s a pretty good package if he puts that all together.”

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Former Nationals GM thinks the Bryce Harper sweepstakes are almost over

Former Nationals GM thinks the Bryce Harper sweepstakes are almost over

Another day, another favorite in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes.

It’s not a completely new team this time around, but former baseball executive and current analyst Jim Bowden feels pretty confident in the Philadelphia Phillies landing the services of the star outfielder.

“I keep hearing there’s a lot of momentum and traction here on him going and signing with the Philadelphia Phillies,” Bowden shared on CBS Sports HQ. “And he could be rounding third and heading home shortly.”

Bowden appeared on the program to help react to the most recent betting odds on Harper, specifically those that have the San Francisco Giants as the clear favorites. Bowden disagrees with that projection, especially considering the length of the offers involved. 

It’s clear the Giants are hoping to sign Harper to a short term deal, but the former Nationals general manager is convinced the outfielder will end up getting a significantly longer deal.

10 years, $300 million is of course the terms of the deal the Nationals reportedly offered Harper months ago as the offseason was getting underway, so if he’s been holding out for a better contract then the Phillies may be forced to top it.

One point Bowden made during the interview was how badly Harper wants to win “right now.” The Giants, Padres, and White Sox don’t appear ready to truly compete for another few seasons, which is why he so emphatically endorses Philadelphia or Washington as the ultimate destination. 

The Phillies and Nats look like the only two competitors who can feasibly win the World Series as early as 2019, and if that’s truly important to Harper, it helps weed out the competition.

Of course, as with the litany of Bryce Harper rumors we’ve heard all winter long, this comes with a baseball-sized grain of salt. 

Various teams have taken turns atop the leaderboard when it comes to guessing where Harper will end up, and while the Phillies are probably the most consistent favorite of the offseason, there’s obviously a reason why they and/or Harper have yet to pull the trigger on a deal. 

The fit seems clear, and the money is there, but for now, Harper is still unemployed, which means every team still has an opportunity to wow him with an offer. It wouldn’t too be surprising if he ultimately ends up in Philadelphia, and if Jim Bowden is to be believed, that news could be coming sooner rather than later.

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Opportunity convinces Davey Martinez to throw aside an old baseball trope

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Opportunity convinces Davey Martinez to throw aside an old baseball trope

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Remember that time a manager had to use his “emergency” catcher? No? Well, that’s because it rarely happens. 

Maybe once in a lifetime. Maybe never. It long operated as the unverifiable excuse for not putting the backup catcher into a game, always enabling that pervasive detriment to change, “What if?”

What if the replacement is hurt? Then the manager is stuck with the so-called emergency catcher. That could be hairy.

Except it’s a longshot. Very long. Nationals manager Davey Martinez sat down during the offseason and thought it through. Checked the numbers. Realized this concern is poppycock. 

“Last year, I thought about it at the end when [Matt] Wieters wasn't able to really catch and he was on the bench, I said, you know what, he's going to hit,” Martinez said Saturday. “If it's a good spot for him, let him hit. I thought all winter, you have two catchers and one guy's playing and you don't want the other guy to play, you might as well just play with 24 guys, really. So why not use them with the right opportunity?”

Aiding this epiphany is two viable options at catcher: Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. In a Pedro Severino-Spencer Kieboom offensive situation, the options are not quite as enticing. Martinez also argued last season he preferred one catcher throughout the game because that person had a feel for what was happening. By that, as much as anything, he meant what was working for a pitcher on a given night against specific hitters. 

It’s easy to wipe away that argument, too. Suzuki will rarely be working with the starting pitcher if he pinch-hits in the eighth inning straight for Gomes or takes his place in a double-switch. He would instead be matched with a bullpen piece. Sequencing becomes more clear, pitching strength more obvious, the entire package more straight forward. A beneficial feel to again wade through the order for the same pitcher won’t exist if Trevor Rosenthal jogs to the mound in the eighth and Suzuki is suddenly behind the plate. 

Gomes is significantly better against left-handed pitching. Suzuki’s splits are close to even. Paired, they give Martinez options both to start and later in the game. The days he rests, Gomes will count as a matchup bat against left-handed relief. Howie Kendrick will also be another option there.

What’s unclear is how the catchers will split time. Gomes appears slated for more starts. Suzuki could well be paired with Anibal Sanchez a season after catching his year of rejuvenation in Atlanta. Each says they don’t care how the time is distributed. Such a claim is often made in the sun-induced pleasure of spring training. Suzuki’s date of birth, Oct. 4, 1983, makes it sound more like fact in this instance. 

“I don’t even care,” Suzuki said. “At this point in my career, picking a team that has a chance to win a World Series is very important to me and like I told [Mike Rizzo] and Davey from Day 1, whatever you need me to do I'll be ready. Whether it's 50 games, 60, whatever. However many games you want me to catch. If I can help the team win every time I’m out there, that's great. I just want to win at this point in my career. I know the clock’s ticking a little bit. I’m not getting younger. That World Series is getting to be pretty important right now.” 

It’s easy for Gomes to agree. He’s in line for 100 starts. Perhaps more.

“That’s just something that if we make that a deal, this team is not going to go forward,” Gomes said. “I just think we need to both be ready whenever our names get called. That’s two guys that have done it with some good pitching staffs and it’s only going to benefit [everyone]. But if we put the playing time thing ahead of [things], it’s not going to be beneficial for the team. And the guy has done it for a long time, man. You have to respect that, especially from a catching standpoint, so you just kind of get to talk to him even more and we already have a little bit of a relationship. He’s an awesome guy and I’m just looking forward to a great season together.”

Washington finished 14th in National League catcher OPS last season. This time, Martinez has two above-average offensive options and new thinking. Gone is a hole and an old trope. In are Gomes and Suzuki. Emergencies are not a concern.

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