June 2012

Harper not in lineup because of back issues

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper was not in Sunday’s lineup against the Red Sox because of lower back tightness — “mostly muscular” — according to manager Davey Johnson.

The injury is not considered serious and there isn’t any talk about Harper getting an MRI. Johnson said Harper most likely will be in the lineup on Monday against the Blue Jays.

Harper, 19, has had back issues for at least four days. Johnson would have never known about the injury if not for bench coach Randy Knorr and head athletic trainer Lee Kuntz telling Johnson about Harper’s problem.

Later in the morning, Harper didn’t look like he was injured. He was seen jogging in left field at Fenway Park. Later in the day, he was seen hitting in the batting cage.

“Bryce hasn’t said anything to me, but we are just being on the safe side.” Johnson said. “Normally, I don’t have coaches and trainers saying that about players. … Anybody that has a little something going on, I have to be on the safe side. I give them a day.”

Harper’s back problems first surfaced on Thursday against the Mets. With one out in the top of the ninth inning, Mets third baseman David Wright hit the ball to right field. Harper went after the ball, dove and let the ball go by him for a triple. After throwing the ball to the cutoff man, Harper fell to the ground in pain.

After the game, Harper said he was OK, that it wasn’t a big deal. Harper most likely will be available to pinch hit against the Red Sox.

Eckstein: Harper advanced as hitter

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has impressed hitting coach hitting coach Rick Eckstein. It’s more than just putting up the nice numbers Harper has put up in his brief time in the big leagues.

According to Eckstein, Harper is advanced as far as studying pitchers and having a plan when he steps to the plate. For example, Harper already knew what he was he was going to do when he faced Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay for the first time in his career on May 22nd.

After watching Halladay for the last three years on TV and on video, Harper’s game plan was to look for the curveball on the first-pitch. In the third inning of a 5-2 victory, Harper thought right and hit the ball in the gap for a triple, driving in two runs.

“He is a very talented young man with a great head on his shoulders, especially for being 19,” Eckstein said. “Some of the questions that he asks and his thought process is so advanced. Months before he ever faced Halladay, Bryce knew what he wanted to do. He has watched him and knew in his mind how he was going to approach that at-bat. He is always thinking ahead. He is always thinking further along. It’s not just here and now, it’s where am I going. It’s a very mature mind-set.”

Harper also doesn’t let to left-handers bother him. Entering Saturday action against the Red Sox, Harper is 15-for-41 [.366] with two home runs and seven RBIs. Against, right-handers, Harper is hitting .255.

“I love lefties. I really do,” Harper said. “I’m a little more calm against them. I try not to do too much. Against righties, I get so excited. I like righties a lot.”

Bench coach Randy Knorr said he is not surprised to see Harper having success against southpaws. Knorr managed Harper last year when both were with Triple A Syracuse and the Arizona Fall League.

“When I had him in the Fall League, we would have some tough lefties go against us and I would have guys that were left-handed [at the plate] and Bryce would make better adjustments already at his age,” Knorr said. “He was 18 at the time. They threw a couple of breaking balls at him and then he tried again and he hit [the ball somewhere]. He was already doing it back then. We have certain hitters who see the ball better than others.”

Some random notes on Espi, Nady, Harper

* Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa continues to be productive from the right side of the plate. On Friday, he went 2-for-3 with an RBI, a walk and two runs scored. He raised his batting average to .359 [14-for-39].

“I feel like no one can get me out,” Espinosa said. “I feel pretty good. I have a good approach up there. I know what I can’t hit.”

On the other hand, from the left side of the plate, Espinosa has had problems all year long. Going into Saturday’s action against the Red Sox, he is 30-for-156 [.192]. Espinosa doesn’t have an explanation on why he is having problems from the left side of the plate. For most of his life, he says, Espinosa has been successful against right-handed pitching.

“It has been real weird for me,” Espinosa said. “My whole life I was a better left-handed hitter. It’s kind of confusing. I don’t understand it. Left-handed, I feel like, I’m not using my hands. I feel like I’m using my shoulders, my body, almost trying to create too much.

“Right-handed, I try to use my hands. … My strength will get there as long as my hand gets there, but it has been a work in progress, I guess, this whole year. It gets frustrating at times because I was a better hitter left-handed. It’s like, why all of a sudden am I struggling left-handed?”

* Lost in the Nationals’ 7-4 victory was the fact that outfielder Xavier Nady robbed Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez of a solo homer in the third inning.

With Stephen Strasburg on the mound and the Nationals leading, 3-2, Gonzalez swung at a 0-1 pitch and hit the ball to deep right field.

Center fielder Bryce Harper shouted to Nady, “You have room, you have room.” Nady climbed the five-foot wall and caught the ball while on running on full speed.

“When I realized that it was in my glove, I kind of shocked myself,” Nady said. “With the sky — once I turned my head and ran — I didn’t pick up the ball until it was close to hitting me in the head. I didn’t pick it up immediately, but I was fortunate enough to hold on to it. I’m still in shock.”

* Although Bryce Harper went 3-for-5 against the Red Sox n Friday, manager Davey Johnson felt the 19-year-old made two mistakes in the games.

In the sixth inning, Harper singled off left-hander Rich Hill to drive in Tyler Moore. Harper was out trying to stretch the single into a double.

Although first-base coach Trent Jewett told Harper to go to second, Johnson felt Harper should have used his instincts and realized he didn’t have a shot to take the extra base.

“[Harper] saw the throw coming to second,” Johnson said. “He was going to hold, but Trent was assuming the ball was going to be [thrown to home plate], so he went on Trent’s instructions. I told [Harper], ‘You have to read that, no matter what he says. [Jewett] is thinking it’s going to be a close play at the plate, then you go give yourself up.’ Harper knew it.”

The second mistake was Harper, who batted second during the game, tried to bunt to reach base.

“I don’t want him to do that,” Johnson said. “I don’t know where that came from, what box of Cracker Jacks he got that out of. … I didn’t ask him about the bunt, but I’ll get to that tomorrow.”

* Stat of the day courtesy of the Red Sox: Harper’s six home runs this season are the most by teenager since Adrian Beltre had seven with the Dodgers in 1998 with the Dodgers.

Nats draft C Spencer Kieboom in 5th round

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

In the fifth round of the First-Year Player Draft, the Nationals selected catcher Spencer Kieboom from Clemson with their fifth-round pick, No. 174 overall.

As a junior in 2012, Kieboom batted .250 with three home runs and 33 RBIs. The year prior, he batted .282, but in 34 fewer at-bats. Kieboom is a strong defensive catcher, as he committed just six errors and posted a .993 fielding percentage in his three years at Clemson.

The Nats’ next pick comes in the fifth round, at No. 204 overall.

Nats draft OF Brandon Miller in 4th round

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

After spending their first three draft picks on prospects from California, the Nationals turned to the East Coast to select outfielder Brandon Miller from Samford University in the fourth round (No. 144 overall).

As a senior, Miller batted .301 with a .650 slugging percentage and .395 on-base percentage. Miller led the Bulldogs with 23 home runs and 65 RBIs, and on Sunday, he scored two runs and added an RBI in Samford’s 3-2 win over Mississippi State in the NCAA Tallahassee regional.

Like the Nats’ third-round pick, left-hander Brett Mooneyham, Miller is a redrafted propspect. The Nats drafted him in the 48th round in 2010, while the Red Sox originally selected him in the 33rd round in 2008.

Miller, listed at 6-foot-1, 208-pounds, played mostly right field at Samford, though he can also play catcher.

“A redraft out of JUCO, he has middle of the lineup power,” Eric Robinson, Area Supervisor for the Southeast region, said, via the @NationalsPR Twitter feed. “Miller is a versatile catcher who profiles both at [right field] and [catcher]. Great makeup. His profile reminds me of our own Tyler Moore.”

The Nats’ next pick comes in the fifth round, at No. 174 overall.

Giolito happy to be drafted by Nats

A day after being selected in the first round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft by the Nationals, right-hander Lucas Giolito said his right elbow problems are behind him.

Earlier this year, Giolito, 17, sprained his ulnar collateral nerve in his right elbow and feels he will not have surgery. He is currently throwing on flat ground.

“I’ve been throwing hard from 60 feet on flat ground. I’m looking forward to pitching soon,” Giolito said during a conference call with the local media.

Giolito, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound righty, went 9-1 with 78 strikeouts and a 1.00 ERA in 70 1/3 innings as a junior at Harvard-Westlake. He also threw three shutouts and tossed four complete games. In 2011, he was named a Perfect Game All-American for his efforts as a junior. The Nationals have compared Giolito to Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay.

“I like to throw my fastball inside and bust people in and maybe comeback with my curveball,” Giolito said. “I throw my changeup a lot. That is obviously a tool I’ll be able to use. It’s a combination of everything to be able to attack hitters and do everything I can to help the team win.”

If not for the injury, Giolito would have been a higher pick in the Draft.

“I had no idea where I was going to go on the board,” Giolito said. “I was sitting there. I was concerned about family and close friends. It was really a surprise to be taken by such a great organization. Right when it happened, it kind of struck me. It was such an awesome moment.”

Giolito comes from an acting family. His mother is actress Lindsay Frost. But Giolito never thought about following in his mother’s footsteps. Baseball was always on his mind. Giolito is a person who admires Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander and Nationals right hander Stephen Strasburg.

“It’s never been something that I’ve been interested in,” Giolito said about acting.

The Nationals have until next month to get Giolito signed to a pro contract. He already has made a commitment to play for UCLA. In the case of Giolito, the 16th overall picks value is worth $2,125,000.

“Right now, I plan to play pro ball, but … UCLA is one of the best baseball programs in all of college baseball,” Giolito said. “UCLA is an option for me and we’ll see how everything works out.”

Nats draft LHP Brett Mooneyham in 3rd round

By Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

With their third-round pick (No. 111 overall) in the First-Year Player Draft, the Nationals selected lefty pitcher Brett Mooneyham from Stanford.

Mooneyham has been drafted twice before, by the Nationals in the 38th round of last year’s draft and by the Padres in the 15th round of the 2008 draft. A 6-foot-5, 235-pound pitcher from Merced, Calif., he finished the 2012 season with a 7-5 record and 4.26 ERA with 90 strikeouts and 37 walks in 82.1 innings pitched.

“[Mooneyham is] a plus athlete with a fastball that touches 97 [miles per hour] to go along with a plus curveball and changeup,” Director of Scouting Kris Kline said, via the @Nationals PR Twitter feed. “Mooneyham projects as high as a number three starter.”

Mooneyham missed the entire 2011 season following surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his left middle finger. His father, Bill, was a first-round pick of the California Angels in 1980 and spent nine years in the Major League with the Angels, Brewers and Athletics.

The Nats’ next pick comes in the fourth round, at No. 144 overall.

Nationals draft 2B Tony Renda in second round

Mike Fiammetta / MLB.com

The Nationals began the second day of the First-Year Player Draft by selecting second baseman Tony Renda from the University of California, Berkeley, with the 80th overall pick.

Renda is a 5-foot-8, 173-pound second baseman who entered the draft after his junior season at Cal. In 2012, Renda hit .342 with a .436 on-base percentage and a .484 slugging percentage. He led the Golden Bears with 75 hits and also added five home runs and 27 RBIs. Renda was named a 2012 first-team preseason All-American by Baseball America and a second-team preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

“In our opinion, Tony has the quickest bat in the draft,” Director of Scouting Kris Kline said, via the @NationalsPR Twitter feed. “He has always hit. He brings controlled aggression and a strong, compact swing. He has tremendous makeup and is a great kid.”

The Nationals next pick comes in the third round, at No. 111 overall.

Nats’ Rizzo ready for the Draft

Monday is the day that Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo calls his Super Bowl. Rizzo and his staff will be working on selecting the best player in the First-Year Player Draft.

Unlike the previous three years, the team will not have a top 10 pick in the Draft. Instead they will have the 16th overall pick. Since the 2007 season, the organization is known to stack the Minor League system with pitching.

Rizzo said he has an opinion on about 35 to 40 players that he has scouted this year.

“It’s a lot less clearer in the type of player we are going to get,” Rizzo said. “It’s hard to plan, but … we have done all the backgrounds and all the work on 1,100 players in the Draft. We are going to rank them –one to 100 – and we are going to take the best player available, like we always do.”

In the past, the Nationals had an idea how much money they were going to spend. As recently as last year, they were known to go higher than the recommended slot for paying their top Draft picks, but that will change starting this year because of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Under the CBA, each team has an allotted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club’s selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team’s selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $100,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.

Any team going up to 5 percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a future first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100-percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a future first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100-percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.

Rizzo indicated the new agreement would not impact the Nationals.

“It hasn’t impacted us one bit,” Rizzo said. “We are going to take it like we always have. We are going to put the board together – ability-based – and we will do our due diligence on the health, makeup, signability on all the players. We are going to pull the trigger and pick the best player available.

“The constrictions that you have on the amount of money that you can spend will certainly change in the way we have done business in the past. Again, it comes down to getting the right player in each of the right slots.”

Live coverage of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft begins with a one-hour preview show on Monday, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

Morse pleased to be back with Nats

After missing two months of the 2012 season because of a torn left lat muscle, Nationals right fielder Michael Morse made his season debut in a 2-0 victory over the Braves on Saturday afternoon, going 0-for-4. All four outs were groundouts to Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

“Every at-bat, I felt more comfortable,” Morse said. “First at-bat, I felt kind of a little jumpy, so I tried to slow it down during the next at-bat. By the last at-bat, I felt where I should be.”

The highlight of the day for Morse came in the first inning when he received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 41,042 at Nationals Park.

“I’ll say that is one of the coolest things [that ever happened to me],” Morse said. “It gave me goose bumps. That tells you about the fans that we have here. It was a great little moment there I had. I appreciate the fans for all their support and everything.”