As the District of Columbia prepared for yet another snow storm Wednesday, the Washington Nationals continued their preparations for the 2015 season in Viera, Fla.
Today was the last day of what you might call the “early stages” of Spring Training, before the team plays its first official Grapefruit League game tomorrow afternoon. While these first few weeks of camp consist mostly of workouts, bullpen sessions, batting practice and other drills that might not seem all that important to the average baseball fan, there are some things that generate quite a bit of excitement for those of us who have been deprived of baseball for the last five months.
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A perfect example of this was Max Scherzer‘s first live batting practice session earlier this week. While that might not seem like much, it was the first time any of us had seen Scherzer pitch to live hitters while wearing the Curly W on his chest. This is exciting stuff, guys.
But perhaps even more exciting is what happened at the team’s Spring Training complex earlier today, when former No. 1 draft picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper squared off in a live batting practice session. Again, this is nowhere near as exciting as actual games – even exhibition games in the middle of March are more interesting to watch than a highly-controlled batting practice session.
Nevertheless, seeing two of the game’s most talented young players face off is always entertaining, especially when the players are Strasburg and Harper. As we know, the Nationals drafted Strasburg and Harper with the N0. 1 overall picks in the draft in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Of course, that really just means that the Nationals were absolutely awful in those two years when they were at the very bottom of the National League. But Strasburg and Harper mean much more than that to the Nationals, as they are two of the biggest reasons behind the team’s rapid ascent from rock-bottom to World Series hopefuls.
“I’m just up there to face live pitching and see some pitches, nothing else, really,” Harper told MLB.com.
Not only have Strasburg and Harper played a key role in the team’s past, but they’ll also play an even more important role in 2015 and beyond. Strasburg will enter the season as one of the team’s several aces, and the Nationals need him to pitch like an ace all season long if they expect to defend their NL East title. Harper will be even more important for the Nationals as he’ll likely be the heart and soul of a lineup that has struggled to stay healthy in recent years – a problem that applies to Harper himself, who missed a large part of the 2014 season with a broken thumb.
Needless to say, Strasburg and Harper will be major players for the Nationals in 2015, and their individual success will go a long way in determining that of the team as a whole. As for the live BP session itself, that went just as you’d expect it to go. Harper swung at three of Strasburg’s 10 pitches, missing two and lining one to second base. The session also included Denard Span and Danny Espinosa, who saw much of the same from the right-hander, who threw 30 pitches total.
As for Harper, facing Strasburg was just business as usual.
"“I’m just up there to face live pitching and see some pitches, nothing else, really,” Harper told MLB.com. “If I get a hit or if I strike out, I don’t even know. That [stuff doesn’t] really matter. It’s not a big deal to me.”"
Never mind the fact that it was a matchup between two of the most hyped young players in baseball history, for Harper it was just another day of Spring Training. But after five cold, baseball-less months, it doesn’t take much to get excited for anything baseball-related. Strasburg facing Harper in live BP? That certainly gets the job done.