Williams looks to put Harper’s comments in the past
By Daniel Popper
WASHINGTON – Nationals manager Matt Williams did his best Wednesday to eliminate any perceived tension in his clubhouse regarding Bryce Harper’s comments about the lineup.
Before returning to the field Monday night after missing more then two months with a torn left thumb ligament, Harper addressed the media and displayed some dissatisfaction with Williams’s decision to hit the 21-year-old slugger sixth in the batting order.
Harper also disagreed with where individuals were playing in the field, stating that Ryan Zimmerman playing left field, Danny Espinosa playing second and Anthony Rendon playing third “should be what’s happening.” Harper’s proposed lineup would have presumably moved him to center field in place of Denard Span.
Instead, Williams played Rendon at second, Zimmerman at third and Harper in left field for both Monday and Tuesday, with Span retaining his starting job in center field. And on Wednesday, the rookie manager proposed that Harper’s comments were taken out of context.
“What was the question asked?” Williams said. “And how did he respond to that particular question? We don’t often hear the question. We just get the response. So with regard to scrutiny regarding the lineup, that’s on me. I make the lineup. And that’s all that Bryce said: ‘He makes the lineup. I’ll play left field or I’ll play center or I’ll play wherever he wants me to and I’ll hit wherever her wants me to.’ I think that’s the proper response. And I don’t think he had anything different. He said ‘If I have the pen, it may be different.’ That’s perfectly fine. It’s perfectly fine. That doesn’t mean he disagrees with the way I’m doing things or has some issue with me. What it means is that, yeah, if I was him, I would want to hit 3rd or 4th too. Who wouldn’t?”
In reality, the question that prompted Harper’s response asked how appreciative Harper was of Zimmerman’s unwavering willingness to move from position to position. After his return on June 3, Zimmerman started 25 games in left field — a brand new position for him. He since returned to third base even though he made clear on multiple occasions he’d prefer to stay in left.
Nonetheless, Williams said Harper’s place in the order is a temporary situation as the outfielder continues to improve after the injury that sidelined him for 57 games.
“I will tell you this, it would be beneficial, I think, for everybody to just see how it plays because I don’t anticipate Bryce Harper hitting 6th the rest of the year,” Williams said. “There’s a number of reasons for it, but first and foremost is he’s just coming back from injury. So does he hit two for us? Yeah. Does he hit three for us? Yeah. Does he hit four? Yeah. Maybe not today, but he will. And it will be this year.”
Williams cautioned reporters who make the assumption that Harper was calling out Span with his remarks on the lineup. But most importantly, the manager said he’s ready to put the ordeal in the past.
“That’s where we’re at right now. He’s good. I’m good,” Williams said. “He wants to play. He wants to win. I want to write his name in the lineup every day. His teammates are there to support him. He’s there to support his teammates. And we’re going to move on.”