Harper pulled for not hustling as Nationals fall to Cardinals

Alex Brandon/AP

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper hit the ball to the mound, jogged to first base and took a right turn to the dugout before getting halfway down the basepath. That would be his final play in the Washington Nationals’ 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday.

First-year manager Matt Williams will tolerate physical miscues, such as the error that provided St. Louis three unearned runs, but he won’t take the nonchalance that the normally aggressive Harper displayed during his sixth-inning jog.

"Lack of hustle. That’s why he came out of the game," Williams said. "He and I made an agreement, this team made an agreement, that when we play the game, that we hustle at all times."

Now in his third season, the 21-year-old Harper is one of Washington’s brightest lights and already a two-time All-Star. The outfielder once ran into a wall in the relentless pursuit of a fly ball, but on this day Harper was left explaining his casual approach on a comebacker.

"I respect what he did," Harper said of Williams’ decision. "That’s part of the game."

Harper was replaced by Kevin Frandsen, who entered as Washington’s left fielder in the seventh and assumed Harper’s position as the second batter in the lineup.

In the ninth inning, Frandsen came to the plate with runners on second and third with one out and Washington trailing 4-2. He drove in a run with a groundout before Jayson Werth struck out on three pitches against Trevor Rosenthal, who earned his fifth save.

"Kevin Frandsen put on a nice `AB’ against Rosenthal," Williams said, "but (Harper’s) spot came up with the ability to win the game. And that’s a shame for his teammates."

Said Harper: "Man, that’s tough to watch, not being able to be up there in that situation. It’s something that I thrive on and I want to be in. You know, it’s in the past and there’s nothing we can do about it now."

Williams said Harper would be back in the starting lineup Sunday for the series finale. Harper went 0 for 3 before being pulled and is batting .295.

"People come pay money to watch him play the way he can play," Williams said. "And it’s pretty exciting. It’s pretty dynamic. But there’s another side to it. And the other side is that regardless of how the ball comes off the bat or regardless of how he’s feeling about an at-bat, he must maintain that intensity and that aggressiveness. And that means running all the way to first base and touching the base."

AROUND THE HORN

Harper was scratched from a game Wednesday with a sore quadriceps, but Williams didn’t view that as a reason to stop short of running 90 feet to first base.

"Regardless of situation, regardless of what’s happening to you personally, we have to play the game a certain way to give ourselves the best chance to win," the manager said. "And it’s too bad that it came down to that situation in the ninth inning when he could’ve been at the plate. For the sake of his teammates and the sake of the organization, he needs to play with aggression and the way he plays."

Harper, the first overall pick by the Nationals in the 2010 draft, is batting .295 with one homer and five RBI in 16 games this season. The 21-year-old outfielder also has 17 strikeouts and has been caught in both of his stolen-base attempts.

Of course, Twitter was abuzz after Saturday’s incident. Reviews were mixed, but someone tweeted an interesting comment from Pittsburgh Pirates announcer Steve Blass.