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Harper rocks homer, then hits hard place

April 22, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — When Bryce Harper hits, and hits well, he hits hard.

That goes the same for baseballs and outfield fences.

Harper thrilled and scared Hagerstown Suns fans and the Washington Nationals on Thursday.

In the first inning, Harper hit his first home run at Municipal Stadium in the opener of a doubleheader sweep by the Hickory Crawdads. In the fourth inning, the Nationals’ top prospect went head first into the right-field fence trying to make a running catch.

In both cases, the results were more than satisfactory.

“I feel good,” said Harper after the Suns’ 8-5 and 7-6 losses. “I hit the wall hard. I laid there a little and was a little scared. My head hurt. I sat out the second game, but I felt good. I feel bad that I didn’t get a chance to pinch hit.”

Harper continues to show his “give your all at all costs” mentality and didn’t let a little thing like a chain-link fence covered with advertising signs stop him.

Hickory was in the midst of a five-run rally that turned a 5-2 Suns’ lead into a 7-5 deficit. The Crawdads had the bases-loaded and a run in when Jonathan Roof stepped in against reliever Wilson Eusebio.

Roof sent a wind-blown drive to right field that Harper went back on but had trouble closing on. He lunged to make a catch but the ball hit the track and bounced over the fence for a two-run double. Harper’s momentum took him head first into the wall hard, and he went to the ground, laying on his back on the warning track.

Suns manager Brian Daubach and Hagerstown’s trainers ran out to assist Harper. He remained on the ground for about three minutes and then got to his feet, wobbling while trying to walk off the pain.

“I hit the side of my face,” the 18-year-old said, running his hand down his right side. “I felt good when I got up. ... I just didn’t want to look stupid and fall over.”

Harper finished the game and hit a sharp grounder to first that turned into a double play in the fifth inning after the collision. After the game, Harper was re-examined in the Suns’ clubhouse. He wasn’t in the lineup for the nightcap.

“He’s OK,” Daubach said. “We checked him out and he has a bit of a stiff neck. He probably had never run into a wall before since he used to be a catcher. He was a little bit scared. We kept him out of the second game as a precaution and we’ll get him checked out again tomorrow.”

The concern over the confrontation with the wall took away all the celebration that came earlier with the home run.

The left-handed hitter clubbed a 1-0 pitch from Hickory starter Justin Grimm over the right-center field fence to give the Suns a 1-0 lead in the first inning. He trotted around the bases and pointed to the sky when he touched home plate with a smile on his face.

“I’ve felt good at the plate,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’ve been struggling. It just takes time. It takes about 40 at-bats to get going.”

In Harper’s case, the homer came on his 45th at-bat, his 17th at Municipal Stadium. It was his second homer of the season, his first since hitting the initial shot of his professional career on April 13 in Lexington.

“It doesn’t bother me if I’m not hitting homers as long as I’m knocking in runs and helping the team,” Harper said.

Still, Harper has made a few changes and got into a comfort zone to try and get on track.

“I have been getting work in the batting cage with my dad,” he said. “And I got contacts. I was told my vision is really bad.”

Harper said he wore his new contacts for the first time on Wednesday in the Suns’ 8-3 loss. He got two singles in his first two at-bats and finished 2-for-5 in the game. He is 3-for-7 with a home run and four runs scored since starting to wear them. He is now hitting .261.

“I’m seeing the ball really well now,” Harper said. “I’m seeing the spin and I’m seeing the strings really well. My vision is now in HD.”

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