The Washington Nationals are drastically under-performing since being picked by many as the preseason favorite in the National League, and tensions are beginning to boil over in the Nats clubhouse.
After Washington lost its 23rd game of the season in San Francisco on Tuesday, during which a misplayed ball in right field by Bryce Harper allowed the Giants to score the tying run, Nationals closer Rafael Soriano ripped the club’s young phenom, telling USA Today that Harper was out of position on the play.
“With two outs and the tying run at first, you have to play the outfield so the ball doesn’t go over your head,” Soriano said in Spanish while acknowledging that his hanging changeup also contributed to Gregor Blanco‘s RBI triple.
“It may not have been a catchable ball, but if we’re positioned the right way, there might have been a different outcome. With two outs, I could tell my 4-year-old son, ‘You know where you need to play,’ and he would go to the right spot to make the play. It’s not an excuse and I’m not speaking badly about anybody, but I think that’s how you play the game.”
Harper has drawn his share of criticism for his play in right field recently, but it has mostly been focused on his “all-out” intensity, which resulted in him running face-first into the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium last week. That collision left him with 11 stitches, and the 20-year-old admitted that it was still fresh in his mind as he tracked Blanco’s line drive.
“I don’t want to hit the fricking wall full-on,” Harper said after Tuesday’s loss. “It doesn’t really feel very good. It sucks not making the play. I totally put that loss on me.”
Soriano apologized for his comments to the newspaper the following day, calling them a result of frustration over his team’s poor performance and not a personal attack on Harper.
“I spoke with him and told him it wasn’t his fault,” Soriano said in Spanish. “I should have made a better pitch. Right now the team is playing poorly, but things will get better. I told him it wasn’t anything personal and we’ll start again from scratch today.”
Harper may have his kinks to work out in the field, but he has been by far the best offensive weapon on a club that has been miserable at the plate this season. He enters Thursday’s off night with a .288/.383/.612 slash line, 12 homers and 23 RBIs — all team highs.