Harper comes through in clutch as Nats win

Harper comes through in clutch as Nats win

Harper comes through in clutch as Nats win
WASHINGTON -- After Bryce Harper got off to a good start through his first four games in the Major Leagues, Nationals manager Davey Johnson decided to put the young phenom in the middle of the batting order on Thursday night.

It paid off, as Harper's RBI double provided the winning margin as the Nationals defeated the D-backs, 2-1, at Nationals Park.

Entering Thursday's action, Harper was 5-for-13 (.385) with two RBIs. His best game came Wednesday, when he went 3-for-4 with two doubles, two runs scored and an RBI against Arizona.

Harper made his presence felt against Arizona in the sixth inning Thursday against right-hander Ian Kennedy. With the score tied at 1, Ian Desmond led off with a double. After Desmond advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Steve Lombardozzi, Harper came to the plate, swung at an 0-1 pitch, and doubled near the left-field line, scoring Desmond and giving the Nationals a one-run lead.

"I knew I had to get something deep in the outfield, basically through the hole," said Harper, who went 1-for 3 in the game. "Kennedy is a great pitcher. He has great offspeed stuff. That changeup is very good. I was trying on wait back on something, and I got something to drive."

The way Harper is playing, it's becoming more likely he will stick with the big club rather than be sent back to Triple-A Syracuse once third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is activated from the disabled list next week. Harper has clearly been one of Washington's best hitters since he arrived last Saturday.

"He has been good," teammate Jayson Werth said. "He is focused. I think he is where he needs to be. The Minor Leagues are tougher than people realize. I like him here, with the right coaches, the right manager, the right teammates. I think that is going to help his development more than him being anywhere else.

"[He has baseball] instincts. He is a baseball player. When you are a baseball player, you can be 15 or you can be 50. If you know how to play the game, you can play. The only thing you have to worry about is staying healthy. That's the big challenge for all of us -- no matter how old you are. He is a good player. No question about it. He is definitely is going to be a force in the lineup for a long time."

While Harper drove in the game-winning run, Johnson gave his star of the game to left-hander Ross Detwiler, who allowed a run in 6 1/3 innings and won his third game of the season. The one run was scored in the top of the sixth inning, when Aaron Hill doubled over the head of Werth in right field, tying the score at 1.

"Det pitched one [heck] of a ballgame," Johnson said. "The Diamondbacks are a good-hitting ballclub. He made quality pitches. I was really impressed with Det. He gave me a good 6 1/3. He was my star of the game."

Detwiler was surprised he received Johnson's star of the game.

"I got it over Bryce? All right," Detwiler said. "I felt good. I really wish I could have finished that seventh inning. My location was off. You can't put two people on base there [in the seventh inning]. Looking back on it, Davey made the right move. That's something I need to get under my belt."

D-backs manager Kirk Gibson noticed that Detwiler was hiding the ball well from his players.

"He was very good, had good velocity, he's a tall guy on the mound, kind of hides the ball," Gibson said. "He had good movement on his two-seamer, and he was throwing the ball on the inside part of the plate. We stayed on the ball, we just weren't able to really center something and hit it over [their] heads. It was a good performance."

Since he was picked over John Lannan to be the fifth starter at the end of Spring Training, Detwiler has a 1.59 ERA in five starts. Werth believes the Nationals made the right decision when it came to Detwiler being in the rotation. At first, it seemed Detwiler would start the season as a long man out of the bullpen.

"It would have been tough to put Ross in the bullpen," Werth said. "Nothing against John Lannan, and what he did last year, and what he did the last few years. It's more of a tough-luck situation for Lannan. I think he is capable of pitching in the big leagues. No question. But Ross really forced their hand, I think. It would have been tough to put him in the bullpen -- for me anyway.

"And I think they made the right decision. You watch [Detwiler] pitch last year, and the stuff that he has, and then in what he did in Spring Training. Having him as our fifth starter, that's tough. You go into a series -- it depends how you look at it. He is your fifth, or he pitches before Strasburg, and I like that. It's good for us. He has done a good job this year."

The Nationals are now on a two-game winning streak and improved their record to 16-9.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.