One day after Bryce Harper expressed his thoughts on the ideal lineup for the Washington Nationals, his manager had a clear message for reporters.
”I’ve got to let you guys know something: I’ve got Bryce’s back in every way. That will not change,” Matt Williams said before Washington’s 7-1 win over the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday.
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On Monday, Harper returned to the Nationals after missing 57 games with a torn ligament in his left hand. With the All-Star outfielder back, the first-year manager has a full complement of potent options, but potentially some tricky decisions. Harper, Washington’s left fielder pre-injury, suggested a configuration where he moves to center — the usual home for Denard Span.
Harper went 1 for 3 with a run scored in his return. Williams said on Monday the daily lineup situation was ”fluid,” but Washington’s entire batting order and fielding roles remained identical following the 7-3 win.
Normally a middle-of-the-order batter, Harper batted sixth again Tuesday and went 1 for 5 with three strikeouts in a 7-1 win over the Rockies.
This week marked the first time since Opening Day — when catcher Wilson Ramos left the game with an injury — that this starting eight took the field.
Williams said he spoke with Harper about his lineup comments.
”I want him to play every day and I want him to play the way Bryce knows how to play. He’s going to hit in different spots in the lineup. He’s OK with that. He’s going to play in different spots in the outfield and he’s OK with that too.”
On April 19, Williams famously benched the 21-year-old in the seventh inning against St. Louis for failing to run all the way to first base on a ground ball out.
Harper is batting .286 with one home run and 10 RBI in 24 games.
”I know there is a lot made of it and a lot of discussion about it, but he and I are good,” Williams said of Harper’s comments. ”There is no rift. We have a conversation every day. I support him all the way. I’m happy to write his name in the lineup every day. Who wouldn’t be.”
Harper stated on Monday that he learned he would play left field via Twitter. He told also told reporters how Washington’s would look if he filled out the card. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman spent time in left with Harper sidelined.
”I think (Zimmerman) should be playing left. (Anthony) Rendon‘s a good third baseman. He should be playing third. We’ve got one of the best second basemen in the league in Danny Espinosa,” Harper told reporters. ”Of course, we want the best-hitting lineup in there. (But) I think Rendon playing third and Zim playing left is something that would be good for this team. I think that should be what’s happening.”
That scenario left out Span, Washington’s regular leadoff hitter.
Williams said he not directly discuss with Harper the need to be considerate of teammates’ feelings.
”I let him know that I support him,” the manager said. ”Part of my job is to do that. (I let him know) that I admire his talents and the way he plays the game and how happy we are to have him on our team. That’s the extent of it. That will not change. There’s no problem between he and I, certainly. There never has been. I respect him. He respects me. I’m really happy to put Harper in the lineup every day. It gives us a very good chance to go out there and win a ballgame.”