If you have been checking into the Washington Nationals spring training games for indication of a Bryce Harper sophomore slump to come, now might be the time to consider a new hobby.
In Washington’s 9-5 loss to a team many expect to be the Nats’ strongest opponent in the NL East – the Atlanta Braves – Harper went 3-for-3 with two doubles, a single and two runs scored to bring his batting average this spring to .750.
Sure, spring training numbers mean arguably nothing. That said, why starve a Nats fan of the opportunity to get at least a little excited by the fact that Harper is just three hits away from matching his total of nine hits from last spring? With Harper looking bulkier at the plate than he did last year, for now, Nats fans can dream of what could be if Harper hits for greater power throughout the coming season.
Along with Harper, Ross Detwiler can rest a little easier tonight. In the first inning of Tuesday’s game, he retired the side on 13 total pitches against the Braves’ Reed Johnson, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, and caught Heyward looking on a 79 MPH curveball.
Detwiler allowed just one hit – by Dan Uggla – in the second inning. He forced Freddie Freeman to fly out to Harper in left before B.J. Upton reached base on a fielding error by Tyler Moore at first. Dan Uggla singled in the next at-bat but Detwiler retired Juan Francisco and Christian Bethancourt to get out of the inning unscathed.
A southpaw for Team USA, Detwiler was likely happy to face many familiar faces on the Braves as he gets ready to play competitive ball. In the third inning of Tuesday’s matchup, however, Atlanta succeeded by playing small ball against the 26-year-old. Ramiro Pena and Johnson hit back-to-back singles and Justin Upton singled to left with one out to bat in Pena. With two outs, B.J. Upton lined to left to bat in Johnson, and the Nats called in Ryan Perry for relief – for which he provided little. Nevertheless, by the end of his stint, Detwiler had thrown 28 strikes out of 41 pitches for a final line of 2.2 IP, 5H, 2ER.
Perry officially earned the loss after allowing six hits, five earned runs and two walks in 1 2/3 innings of play. Lefty Bill Bray allowed the Braves to tack on an additional earned run in the fifth, and the Braves tallied an extra unearned run off right-hander Jeremy Accardo before calling it a day with a 9-5 win over D.C.
The Nationals are now 1-2 in Grapefruit League action this year and will go on to face the Miami Marlins at home tomorrow at 1:05 p.m. ET.