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Williams on Benching Harper: You Never Touch the Bag ‘You Can Never Be Safe’

by Chris 'Blue Shorts' Lingebach
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ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 13: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals reacts after being thrown out at second base in the 3rd inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on April 13, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

ATLANTA, GA – APRIL 13: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals reacts after being thrown out at second base in the 3rd inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on April 13, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC) - Nationals manager Matt Williams says Bryce Harper didn’t give himself the chance to be safe, four days ago, when the 21-year-old slugger peeled off for the dugout after hitting a comebacker to the pitcher instead of running to first base, which is ultimately why Williams benched Harper.

After that loss to the Cardinals, Williams said Harper was benched for “lack of hustle.”

“He and I made an agreement,” he said. “This team made an agreement, that when we play the game, that we hustle at all times; that we play the game with intensity and the willingness to win, and as it turned out, his spot came up — Kevin Frandsen put on a nice [at-bat] against [Trevor] Rosenthal — but his spot came up with the ability to win the game, and that’s a shame for his teammates.”

“I’m not gonna lie to anybody,” Williams told the Junkies on Wednesday.

“I’m not gonna make up an injury that’s not there,” he said. “He’d been dealing with a quad issue. I just decided to let everyone know why. It’s important for us to play the game the way we want to play it, and give ourselves the best chance to win. That’s all we want to do is win. In that regard, Bryce is a fabulous player. And he got a little frustrated.”

“And I think over the course of the year, that he’s going to have a fantastic year and be the player he wants to be and we all think he’s going to be, but at that time, I think it was important to let everybody know that ‘Hey, we’ve got a job to do here, and we need to do it right.’

“‘If we’re gonna win, then there’s certain ways we have to go about it.’ And that’s it. I’ve spoken with Bryce many times, prior and post, and it’s just an act of frustration on his part. I understand that. And that’s all it was.”

Asked later if he would have pulled Harper had he at least jogged to first, versus sprinting or accepting the out, as he did, Williams said “no.”

“No, and I don’t expect him to go — him or anybody else — to go so fast that they end up hurting themselves because they’re over-hustling,” Williams said. “You know what I mean? The other side of the coin. If you never touch the bag, you can never be safe, and that’s the point.

“So the fact that he just didn’t go all the way, and peeled off and went to the dugout — we don’t give ourselves a chance to be safe in that regard, therefore we don’t give ourselves a chance to win — and that’s all it was.

“It’s a question of a young player being frustrated, who’s very talented who has many tools that he can use at his disposal to win, and he just didn’t do it. It was over at that point, and he was in the lineup the next day, and he has been, and we rely on him a lot, so at that point, it was just a question of getting that part of it over with and going to the next day.”

On Tuesday, prior to the Nationals second game against the Angels in D.C., Williams mysteriously had Harper batting sixth in the lineup, after hitting him second for five games dating back to the start of the Nats series against the Cardinals last Thursday.

The reason, Williams said, was Harper’s prior history with starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who pitched 7 solid innings giving up 2 runs on 3 hits with 5 strikeouts in the Angels 7-2 victory over Washington.

Specifically, Williams says he moved Harper down in the lineup because he doesn’t see Skaggs well.

“For me, last night was an exception,” he said. “I know that he and the pitcher last night have history, and these are the little things that go on within the game that nobody really understands.

“He and Tyler Skaggs have history. He told me the night before that he really didn’t see the ball very well against Tyler. And they’ve got history in college, or in high school, and they faced each other a few times — Tyler’s from California, Bryce is from Nevada; they played in the area code games against each other — so that being said, and I wanted to split the lefties up last night.

“One, I wanted to hit lower in the order because he doesn’t see him very well,” Williams reiterated. “Two, we get in those situations where Anthony [Rendon's] swinging a hot bat, or you get in the middle of the order — Bryce potentially last night had an opportunity with guys on base — so that is what I was looking for. It’s not a demotion of Bryce.”

Harper went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the game.

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