BOSTON -- Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has impressed hitting coach Rick Eckstein. It's more than just putting up the nice numbers that Harper has accumulated in his brief time in the big leagues.
According to Eckstein, Harper is advanced as far as studying pitchers and having a plan when he steps up to the plate. For example, Harper already knew what he was going to do when he faced Roy Halladay for the first time in his career on May 22.
After watching Halladay for the last three years on TV and on video, Harper's game plan was to look for the curveball on the first pitch. In the third inning of a 5-2 victory, Harper thought right and hit the ball in the gap for a triple, driving in two runs.
"He is a very talented young man with a great head on his shoulders, especially for being 19," Eckstein said. "Some of the questions that he asks and his thought process is so advanced. Months before he ever faced Halladay, Bryce knew what he wanted to do. He has watched him and knew in his mind how he was going to approach that at-bat. He is always thinking ahead. He is always thinking further along. It's not just here and now, it's where am I going? It's a very mature mindset."
Harper also doesn't let left-handers bother him. Entering Saturday's action against the Red Sox, Harper was 15-for-41 [.366] with two home runs and seven RBIs. Against, right-handers, Harper was hitting .255.
"I love lefties. I really do," Harper said. "I'm a little more calm against them. I try not to do too much. Against righties, I get so excited. I like righties a lot."
Bench coach Randy Knorr said he is not surprised to see Harper having success against southpaws. Knorr managed Harper last year when both were with Triple-A Syracuse and the Arizona Fall League.
"When I had him in the fall league, we would have some tough lefties go against us, and I would have guys that were left-handed [at the plate] and Bryce would make better adjustments already at his age," Knorr said. "He was 18 at the time. They threw a couple of breaking balls at him, and then he tried again and he hit [the ball]. He was already doing it back then. We have certain hitters who see the ball better than others."
Desmond, Espinosa solid up the middle
BOSTON -- In their 4-2 victory over the Red Sox on Saturday, the Nationals showed they have great defense up the middle with shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa.
In the fourth inning, while the infield shifted over toward the right side of the diamond, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz hit the ball on the right side of second base. It looked like the ball would go through for a hit, but Desmond grabbed it and threw out Ortiz by a couple of steps.
Two innings later, Adrian Gonzalez hit a blooper behind second base. Espinosa leaped and caught the ball for the second out of the inning.
"Those two have been incredible," Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "In fact, there have been a lot of balls, especially early on, I kind of gave up on, thinking they were base hits. I found myself busting it over to first. Now, if it's on the ground, they are probably going to get to it."
Desmond and Espinosa started working together on a regular basis last year, and they have an idea what they can do when it is game time.
"We talk about stuff, make movements on the field when we are facing guys. I think Ian and I work real well together," Espinosa said. "We get along well. Ian and I hang out. We can tell each other what to do, what we want to do, so it helps a lot."
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.