It would take a prolonged stretch of consistent ineptitude for the Washington Nationals to even entertain the possibility of sending 21-year-old phenom Bryce Harper to the minor leagues for a tune up, and even then it would be a long shot.
It's simply not a realistic or sensible option, because even at his young age, there's nothing to be gained from the exercise. Harper is already firmly established as a major league talent, and he'll be given the same opportunity other established players are given to work his way out of a slump.
With that in mind, it's only natural that the media in Washington would pose the question, specifically to manager Matt Williams. Even if they already know the answer, his response could still shed light on whether or not the team is truly frustrated with his performance. Keep in mind, Harper is batting only .207 since returning from thumb surgery on July 4.
On Wednesday morning, the inevitable was asked during Williams' weekly radio spot on The Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, and while he in no way endorsed the idea, he also didn't shoot it down completely, leaving his comments open to being nitpicked and the subject remaining on the table come pregame on Wednesday night.
Here's a look at the original question and Williams' initial comments courtesy of the Washington Post:
“Is it a terrible idea – just a wacky idea – to send him down to Syracuse for a week, just to get him right?” one of the Junkies asked. “Is that just a stupid idea on my part?”
“I don’t know,” Williams answered. “I don’t think it’s stupid. Generally, if you have young players, that’s what you do. But this guy is a special young player. We all know that. It’s different. I think he works hard every day. He’s the first one in the ballpark, generally, to get his day going. He’s grinding. We’re doing everything we can to get a good feel going in there and help him with his confidence and all that. It’s not easy, by any stretch. But I don’t know if it’s a good idea at this point to do that, because it’s completely different pitching."
Williams had a chance to end the conversation before it got started by taking a firmer stance. Instead, it turned into one of the hottest sports topics of the day, earning its own segment on ESPN's Pardon The Interuption.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. RT @PTI: Should the Nationals send Bryce Harper down to the minors? Wilbon: "They should. But I don't think they can."— keithlaw (@keithlaw) August 6, 2014
Obviously not everyone agrees about how it should be handled, but Williams wanted to make sure the topic was squashed for good by game time. During his pregame meeting with the media at Nationals Park, he lashed out at those gathered for misinterpreting his words and this time gave the firm response that was necessary.
"I would caution everybody in this room: The minute you think you can read my freaking mind, you're sorely mistaken. It [ticks] me off to even think about, that somebody would take a comment I made on the radio and infer I am thinking one way or another. I've had it. Don't do it anymore.
"Bryce Harper is one of the guys on our team, he's a very important part of our team. Just like everybody else is. Do we understand each other?
"It's not fair to the kid, it's not fair to the rest of the guys in that clubhouse to even think about sending Bryce Harper to the minor leagues, or to cause a stir. It's unacceptable. It won't happen."
Case closed. Bryce Harper isn't going anywhere, and the question shouldn't come up again unless his game completely comes off the rails.
Granted, we may be closer to that point now than we ever thought we'd be until he reached his late 30s, but we're still a long way from it becoming a serious enough concern that Harper's career path takes a step backward.
By the way, Harper was 1-for-3 with a single, walk and strikeout in Washington's 7-1 win over the Mets on Wednesday. That qualifies as a step in the right direction.
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