WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper may have the answer to the Nationals’ most pressing question as the trade deadline looms.
With Jonathan Papelbon earning his third blown save of the season (in 22 opportunities) in heartbreaking fashion Tuesday, Washington may be in the market for a new closer.
As it turns out, Harper recently gave an opportune answer to Harold Reynolds for an upcoming episode of MLB Network’s child-focused “Play Ball.” Harper’s interview was filmed at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in late June; the episode debuts Saturday at 10 a.m. (EST).
“If you could play another position, what would it be?” Reynolds asked.
“If I could catch a big league game and just be able to work with the pitcher and do that, I’d definitely do that,” Harper, a former catcher, said.
“But, if I could close one inning in the ninth in Game 7 of the World Series, it would be unbelievable. One of those two.”
Harper has experience as a closer, just not at the big league level.
He pitched two innings (one credited) in a relief appearance during his lone season at College of Southern Nevada. That was six years ago, in the first game of a doubleheader against Western Nevada College.
It was a high leverage situation, with the game tied 4-4 heading into the bottom of the eighth. Harper induced two groundouts and struck out one batter — on five pitches — for a clean first inning of relief.
The ninth didn’t go as well for him. With the score still knotted 4-4, he gave up a leadoff double to Jonathan Sigado, who advanced to third on a throwing error by the center fielder. The next batter, Brooks Klein, hit a walk-off single to right field.
Harper still went 2-for-4 at the plate with a single, a homer and two RBI. He homered again (to opposite field) for his only hit in the second game.
Harper gave this response on his Make Baseball Fun Again campaign: “I enjoyed what David Ortiz said this year. He said, ‘I’m not trying to be your friend out there. I’m trying to do everything possible to beat you.’ I think the biggest thing is just trying to enjoy the game, trying to grab the attention of kids and really taking this sport to the next level.”
Ortiz was a strong proponent of Harper’s ‘Fun’ campaign, saying in June, “I think Harper was right about what he said, absolutely. Quite frankly, I think baseball wants to be too serious about what we do.
“Whenever we have any reaction within the game, people want to make it about, ‘Oh, he’s a showboat,’ you know? People need to realize that this is a game. OK, we get paid a lot of money. But it’s a game. You have to have fun.”
Harper continued: “I think having the young generation of baseball with Manny Machado or Matt Harvey or [Jacob] deGrom — all these guys are really taking the bull by the horns and playing the game the right way. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Asked about his favorite celebration in 2016, Harper pointed to Daniel Murhpy’s home run antic.
“Right now it’s probably when Murphy hits a homer and he goes, ‘FWAH,” he said. “I don’t know where it came from or what the word is or whatever, but it’s, ‘FWAH,’ and everybody does it when Murph hits a homer. So it’s got to be that one.”
The National League’s reigning MVP was also asked for his biggest moment in the big leagues thus far.
“You’ve had a lot,” Reynolds noted.
“Making it to the postseason,” Harper said. “I mean, being able to do that twice, it’s been a lot of fun. To be able to be in that atmosphere, in that environment, you live for that and hopefully we can do that again this year.”
Advice for the children watching at home?
“Play as many sports as you can and have fun doing it,” Harper said. “Enjoy the moment of every single day and never take it for granted. Really just enjoy what you do and listen to your parents, because, at the end of the day, they know what’s best. And do the best you can.”