VIERA, Fla. – Following Sunday’s 11-7 loss to the Detroit Tigers, the Nationals optioned 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper to Triple-A Syracuse of the International League as part of four cuts made by the team.
The Nats also optioned catcher Jhonatan Solano,along with first baseman Tyler Moore to Syracuse while re-assigning infielder Mark Teahen to minor-league camp.
Harper, who hit .286 this spring in nine games and led the team with 11 strikeouts, was informed of the decision after the game, a game in which he struck out four times before hitting a double over the head of the center fielder in the bottom of the ninth inning.
It also didn’t help that Harper missed six games earlier this spring with a left calf strain.
“It sucks, of course, but I’m going to take it, go down and work hard and get up here as quick as I can,” Harper said.
Manager Davey Johnson wants Harper to go down to Syracuse and play center field on a regular basis. Harper got a chance to start in center twice in the last week and in one game, he moved from right to center late in the contest.
“I want him to go down and play, and play a little more center field,” Johnson said. “I think Jayson Werth can handle center field but I think with Jayson, he might get beat up a little bit and I’d like to have younger legs out there.”
Johnson also said he would like to get a chance to look at some of the other outfielders they currently have as they try to make the best decision as to who will be on the final 25-man roster to start the season.
“I like this ballclub here and there are some guys in camp that are interesting that I need to look at,” he said. “(Rick) Ankiel is back and I like what I saw when he was healthy. He’s made some improvements. I like (Brett) Carroll and Bernie (Roger Bernadina), they’re looking better.”
With this decision, Johnson has all but put to rest the Jayson Werth in center field experiment. Johnson saw Werth make a great, diving catch in center on a ball hit by Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson in the fourth inning of Sunday’s game, but Johnson also feels Werth will stay healthier if he is playing right field.
“I know he can handle it but I know it would beat him up more,” Johnson said. “I want his bat more than I want his defense. That was a big decision in it. I like the way Jayson is coming back and I don’t want to have him beat up playing center field on an everyday basis while a rookie is getting his feet wet.”
Johnson’s plan for Harper as he goes back down was laid out after a meeting of the minds with the coaching staff.
“Predominantly, I want him to get a lot of experience in center. I’ve talked to Riz (GM Mike Rizzo) about it and I have talked to (Syracuse Manager, Tony) Beasley about it. He’ll share some time with Corey Brown between right and center. You know, center first and then right field are the two most demanding. He’ll play those exclusively.”
While Harper played left field in Harrisburg and also in the Arizona Fall league, he also played right field in Hagerstown. He welcomes the idea that Johnson wants him to play in center on a regular basis.
“I love it, I’m excited,” Harper said. “After he said that to me I was excited to get down there and work on my center field. I’m going to Syracuse and I’m excited to get going.”
Harper didn’t take the news nearly as hard as he did last year but he did vow this was the last time he would be sent down to the Minor Leagues.
“I love being up here with all the guys and listening to all the veterans, seeing what they do every day and listening to Werth and Zim, Michaels and being able to get something from him every single day I think was huge. Just learning from Werth in the outfield, I mean he really took advantage of that and helped me out,” he said.
“I think we’re a contender even if I am not on club. It’s going to be a great thing for me to go down, get better and come back up and help out the club,” he said.
Johnson feels like that will happen sometime this season.
“When Harper gets here, I see no turning back,” he said.