by Amanda Comak
Following an historically powerful week with an encore that continued to solidify his place among the game’s elite, Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper earned his second consecutive National League Player of the Week award on Monday.
Harper went 12-for-23 (.522) over the last week, posting a .656 on-base percentage and a 1.087 slugging percentage, courtesy of two doubles, one triple, three home runs, nine RBI, nine walks, 10 runs scored and two stolen bases. In the month of May, Harper is hitting .411 with a .529 OBP and a .982 SLG.
Since the inception of the award in 1974, the Nationals’ 22-year-old right fielder is just the 10th player in its history to take home back-to-back Player of the Week honors.
Harper joins Domonic Brown (2013: May 20-26; May 27-June 2), Andrew McCutchen (2012: July 2-8; July 9-15), Matt Kemp (2012: April 4-8; April 9-15), Troy Tulowitzki (2010: Sept. 6-12; Sept. 13-19), Jose Reyes (2006: June 12-18; June 19-25), Jason Bay (2006: May 15-21; May 22-28), Jeff Bagwell (1994: June 13-19; June 20-26), Tony Gwynn (1988: July 4-10; July 11-17), and Jason Thompson (1982: April 26-May 2; May 3-9) as consecutive winners.
Breaking Harper’s splits down to just the last 11 games (since May 6), he is 22-for-39 (.564) with 22 RBI. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other player in the last 75 seasons to compile a batting average over .550 with at least 22 RBI in an 11-game span during a single season was Colorado Rockies outfielder Larry Walker. Walker, who hit .571 with 22 RBI during 11 games in April, 1997, was the first to tally such gaudy numbers since Rudy York (.556, 26 RBI) did it for the Detroit Tigers in Sept. 1940.
Thanks to his torrid pace, Harper now leads the Major Leagues in the following categories: runs (36), RBI (37), walks (36), on-base percentage (.476), slugging percentage (.729), OPS (1.206), at-bats per home run (9.50), plate appearances per walk (4.72) and WAR (3.5 per Baseball Reference). He also leads the National League in home runs (14, 2nd in MLB) and intentional walks (5).
This is the second Player of the Week award of Harper’s career, following last week’s honors, and the 13th such honor for the Nationals organization.
He joins Jordan Zimmermann (Sept. 22-28, 2014; June 2-8, 2014), Adam LaRoche (Sept. 1-7, 2014), Jayson Werth (June 30-July 6, 2014), Ryan Zimmerman (July 16-22, 2012; Aug. 15-21, 2011; July 30-Aug. 5, 2007), Stephen Strasburg (June 7-13, 2010), Josh Willingham (July 27-Aug. 2, 2009), Cristian Guzman (Aug. 25-31, 2008), and Nick Johnson (May 31-June 6, 2005) as honorees.
by Amanda Comak
The Washington Nationals recalled right-handed pitcher A.J. Cole from Triple-A Syracuse and placed right-handed pitcher Doug Fister on the 15-day Disabled List with right forearm tightness on Friday. President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement.
Cole, 23, entered the 2015 season ranked as the Nationals’ No. 6 prospect, and the No. 91 prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America. The hard-throwing right-hander, who was added to the team’s 40-man roster this past winter, joins the Nationals for the second time this season. He made his Major League debut April 28 at Atlanta (2.0 IP, 9 H, 9 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K).
Coming off a tremendous 2014 season, in which he posted a 13-3 record with a 3.16 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse, Cole is 0-1 with a 2.67 ERA in five starts for Triple-A Syracuse this season.
Cole, who owns a Minor League career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.30/1, has struck out 8.9 batters per nine innings over the course of his Minor League career.
A fourth-round selection of the Nationals’ in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Cole was traded to the Oakland Athletics in the six-player deal that brought left-hander Gio Gonzalez to Washington in advance of the 2012 season. The right-hander was then re-acquired by Rizzo in January of 2013, along with right-hander Blake Treinen and left-hander Ian Krol, in the three-team transaction that sent Michael Morse to Seattle.
Fister, 31, is 2-2 this season with a 4.31 ERA. Since being acquired from the Detroit Tigers in Dec. 2013, Fister is 18-8 with a 2.78 ERA in a Nationals uniform.
Welcome to the next installment of the 2015 Minor League report, courtesy of the Nationals Baseball Communications department. All the information below reflects games played from the start of the season through yesterday (May 12).
Here are a few highlights:
WILMER DIFO – INF – HARRISBURG SENATORS
INF Wilmer Difo was promoted from Single-A Potomac to Double-A Harrisburg on May 1…In nine games with the Senators, Difo is hitting .344 (11-for-32) with seven doubles, one triple, three RBI, one walk, three stolen bases and seven runs scored…He has hit safely in seven of the nine games…In 28 games between Harrisburg and Single-A Potomac, Difo is hitting an organizational-best .327 with 14 doubles, one triple, three home runs, 17 RBI, nine walks, seven stolen bases and 20 runs scored…His 14 doubles are tied for second most in all of Minor League Baseball…For his efforts during the month of April (.320, 7 2B, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 8 BB, 4 SB, 13 R), Difo was named Organizational Player of the Month for Single-A Potomac…Difo, 23, was signed as a non-drafted free agent, June 3, 2010…He entered 2015 ranked as the No. 7 prospect in Washington’s chain, per Baseball America.
SYRACUSE CHIEFS (AAA – International League)
Overall Record: 14-18
Standing – Games Back: 5th place, -5.5, International League North
Period Record: 8-5
HOT STREAK: 3B Ian Stewart leads Nationals farmhands and is tied for the International League lead with six home runs…His 19 RBI are tied for most in the Nationals’ organization and tied for fifth in the International League…On May 8 vs. Durham (TBR), Stewart clubbed two home runs the Chiefs’ 7-6 loss to the Bulls…Since that day, Stewart is hitting .286 (6-for-21) with three home runs, six RBI, one walk and six runs scored.
HARRISBURG SENATORS (AA – Eastern League)
Overall Record: 13-18
Standing – Games Back: 3rd place, -6.5, Eastern League Western
Period Record: 9-11
VOTE FOR PEDRO: After starting the season on an 0-for-22 skid, C Pedro Severino has stayed hot, hitting .377 (23-for-61) with three doubles, two homers, 12 RBI, five walks and nine runs scored in 17 games since April 17…He has hit safely in 13 of those 17 games along the way…His .277 average on the season is tied for eighth among Nationals farmhands.
POTOMAC NATIONALS (Advanced-A – Carolina League)
Overall Record: 14-18
Standing – Games Back: 3rd place, -3.5, Carolina League Northern
Period Record: 5-8
REY OF HOPE: Through two starts, RHP Reynaldo Lopez has yet to allow an earned run in 11.0 IP…He is 2-0 and has fanned nine batters while walking two and surrendering six hits in his first taste of Carolina League action…In his 2015 debut on May 7 at Wilmington (KCR), the 21-year-old Dominican Republic-native allowed two hits while striking out three and walking none in 5.0 innings of work in Potomac’s 2-1 win…He followed that up on May 12 when he struck out six while allowing four hits in 6.0 innings at Wilmington (W2-0)…Lopez entered 2015 rated as the No. 3 prospect in Washington’s system, per Baseball America…He was signed as a non-drafted free agent, June 21, 2012.
HAGERSTOWN SUNS (A – South Atlantic League)
Overall Record: 14-17
Standing – Games Back: T6th place, -8.0, South Atlantic League Northern
Period Record: 5-7
START ME UP: Through six starts, RHP Phillips Valdez is 3-2 with a 1.50 ERA (5 ER/30.0 IP)…His 1.50 ERA ranks second in the organization and third in the South Atlantic League…From April 19-May 1, Valdez went 2-0 and did not allow an earned run in 17.0 IP…He struck out 11 and did not walk a batter during that stretch…Valdez, 23, was singed as a non-drafted free agent, May 30, 2012.
Here is the full Minor League report:
by Amanda Comak
Harper, who is currently leading the National League in home runs (11) and is tied for the Major League lead in walks (27), hit .455 with a .520 on-base percentage and a 1.318 slugging percentage over last week’s six-game stretch. He clubbed six home runs, drove in 13, doubled once and struck out only four times in 25 plate appearances. The Nationals went 5-1 in that span.
Harper began his power surge on Wednesday, hitting three home runs in his first three at-bats, making him just the fourth Nationals (2005-present) player ever to hit three home runs in one game. He joined Alfonso Soriano (April 21, 2006 vs. ATL), Adam Dunn (July 7, 2010 vs. SDP) and Ryan Zimmerman (5/29/13 at BAL) on that list.
But that was just the start of Harper’s hot week. He followed Wednesday’s performance up with a two-homer game on Friday, and a walk-off homer on Saturday (the third walk-off home run of his career), before going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI in the Nationals’ sweep-clinching victory over Atlanta on Sunday.
Harper had already made history with five home runs in the span of two games, becoming the youngest player in MLB history to do so, besting Mark McGwire (age 23, June 1987), and the first franchise player (Nationals/Expos) to accomplish that feat as well. But his six home runs and 12 RBI put him in even more elite company. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Harper is only the fifth player in MLB history to hit at least six home runs and drive in 12 or more runs over a span of three games during the near-century for which RBI have been officially compiled (1920-present). The only other players to do so were: Tony Lazzeri (1936), Ralph Kiner (1947), Manny Ramirez (1998) and Shawn Green (2002), but none of those players hit a walk-off home run during their three-game power trip.
Harper, who is 10-for-16 with six home runs and 13 RBI in his last four games, also joined Vladimir Guerrero as the only player in franchise history to produce such gaudy totals in a four-game period. Guerrero, who once went 10-for-15 with six home runs and 14 RBI for the Expos, did it over two seasons, in the final three games of 1999 and the 2000 season opener.
At 22, Harper’s heroics also put him in elite company historically. The only other Major League players to hit at least three walk-off home runs at age 22 or younger are: Frank Robinson, Tommy Davis, Eddie Murray, Juan Gonzalez and Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He is also the 10th-youngest player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a game.
This is the first Player of the Week award for Harper, who was twice named Rookie of the Month in 2012, and the 13th such honor for the Nationals organization. He joins Jordan Zimmermann (Sept. 22-28, 2014; June 2-8, 2014), Adam LaRoche (Sept. 1-7, 2014), Jayson Werth (June 30-July 6, 2014), Ryan Zimmerman (July 16-22, 2012; Aug. 15-21, 2011; July 30-Aug. 5, 2007), Stephen Strasburg (June 7-13, 2010), Josh Willingham (July 27-Aug. 2, 2009), Cristian Guzman (Aug. 25-31, 2008), and Nick Johnson (May 31-June 6, 2005) as honorees.
Right-hander Rafael Martin made his Major League debut on Wednesday in impressive fashion: striking out five consecutive Red Sox batters in two scoreless innings of work. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Martin became the first reliever to strikeout five consecutive batters in his debut since Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Pete Richert did it on April 12, 1962. He is also the first Nationals pitcher (starter or reliever) to strikeout at least five straight batters in his MLB debut since Stephen Strasburg struck out seven straight on June 8, 2010.
Interview by Charlie Slowes
What was going through your mind during your big league debut?
It was an adrenaline rush — it felt good to get out there finally. It’s been a long wait to make my debut, something that I will never forget. The five strikeouts, it just happens. I didn’t really plan on striking everybody out, I was just throwing fastballs trying to have them put them in play and things worked out.
Did the Red Sox have trouble seeing your sinker ball?
Escobar told me, “Hey the shadows are bad, just throw it, let it go.” So I just kept pounding fastballs, not trying to cheat anybody, see what happens. He was saying, “I can’t see the ball, so I don’t think they can either,” so I just kept pounding the zone.
How did it feel to debut in such a historic ballpark like Fenway Park?
Debut, Jackie Robinson Day, the (somber anniversary) of (the Boston Marathon bombings), it was really neat, something l will never forget.
You’ve taken a unique path to the big leagues. How did it all happen?
Out of high school, I didn’t even play varsity until my senior year. (I was) definitely a late bloomer. Out of high school, I worked construction for five years, and then I played a game in Tecate, Mexico and a scout saw me and invited me for a tryout. I went out there, tried out, they (the Mexican League team) signed me, three years later the Nationals bought my contract, and five years later I get to make my debut. So it was definitely a long story — not your typical story — but I’m finally here and it’s awesome.
Did you play any kind of baseball during those years you were working construction?
I was playing Sunday ball, like rec leagues. All of my buddies from high school are guys that I played with. I played a lot of softball during the week too, two to three times a week, slow pitch softball. It was fun, I was enjoying it and making good money working construction.
Was it difficult to battle injuries through your first few years?
In 2010, my first year here, I did really well. In 2011, I had some issues coming off of my first real offseason because I played year round in Mexico. I came back to Spring Training, had little issues getting back on track. In 2012 I got the big league (training camp) invite and just kind of struggled out of the gate. I went to Syracuse, cold weather, had some issues, shoulder problems, surgeries in 2012 and 2013 and last year I was finally healthy. It paid dividends, and all my hard work paid off.
Did Spring Training help prepare you for your debut?
Finally, after three years it was the first Spring Training where I could come in healthy and ready to give it all I’ve got and fight for a job. It was a very short chance but I had to open some eyes and show them what I could do.
What was the day like when you finally got called up this year?
It was a save situation. I was the closer there and I didn’t come in. He had Evan Meek pitch, and I was kind of weirded out by it…I was like, “Why was I not closing this game?” I didn’t think much of it, after the game I just gave high fives to the guys in the clubhouse, and the pitching coach, Bob Milacki called me, he was like, “Come here,” into the office and (Syracuse Manager) Billy Gardner just said. “Hey, you’re going to Boston.” I kind of looked around at everybody like, “Are you guys joking, what’s going on?” It was kind of unique. I was really surprised by it.
How was the trip to Boston?
I left at 6 a.m. from Lehigh (Pa.), layover in Philly, and got into Boston around 10 a.m. I waited around the hotel (until they made the move official) and then I got the call that I could go to the ballpark. I was kind of like, “All right let’s do this.” It was fun.
How did your family react to you moving up to the big leagues?
(My wife) had to drive from Scranton to Lehigh Sunday night, Tuesday morning drive to Lehigh to Boston and after the game Boston to here (D.C.), I kind of felt bad for her but it’s adrenaline for her too. Hopefully (the rest of my family) makes it out Tuesday for the game, and they can enjoy this with me too. My dad is one of those guys who doesn’t break easily, and I got him to tear up so it made me proud too.