It may only be fitting that the pitcher who made the most-anticipated debut in recent years will be on the mound.
With Stephen Strasburg looking for another strong performance, Harper will be in the lineup Saturday night when the Nationals continue their weekend series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine.
The Washington franchise has reached the postseason once, and that came in 1981 as the Montreal Expos. The club’s fortunes appear to be changing behind an array of young talent led by Strasburg (2-0, 1.08 ERA), and the Nationals (14-6) and Los Angeles (14-6) currently share the league’s best record.
Now, the Nationals will add another possible star in Harper, the first overall selection in the 2010 amateur draft and widely regarded as baseball’s top prospect. Washington has promoted the 19-year-old outfielder from Triple-A Syracuse after third baseman Ryan Zimmerman had to go on the disabled list with inflammation in his right shoulder.
Harper hit .250 with one homer and three RBIs in 20 games for Syracuse after batting .286 with the Nationals in spring training.
Washington isn’t going to wait to put him in the lineup after totaling three runs and seven hits while losing the last two games, including a 3-2 defeat in Friday’s series opener.
“I’m going to put him in left field and let him play,” manager Davey Johnson said while mentioning he will bat Harper seventh for the final two games of this series.
“Harp had a great spring training, he’s a phenomenal talent, and he’s been swinging the bat down there. But we have a need here for a left-handed bat, and he’s the guy that fits the role. As far as I’m concerned, he’s earned the right to get the opportunity.”
Harper’s debut is likely the most-anticipated in the majors since Strasburg - the top overall pick from the 2009 draft - struck out 14 batters over seven innings to beat Pittsburgh on June 8, 2010.
Virtually a grizzled veteran compared to Harper, Strasburg has seen all four of his starts this season result in Nationals victories and has struck out 25 in 25 innings.
The right-hander was impressive again last Saturday, allowing four hits through six shutout innings against Miami while striking out six. The Nationals went on to win 3-2 in 10 innings.
“I go out there and try to keep things simple, don’t try to do too much and try to do my job,” Strasburg said.
Strasburg also didn’t get a decision in his only career meeting with the Dodgers last Sept. 6, yielding two hits in five scoreless innings of a 7-3 home loss.
However, they’ve combined to go 0 for 4 with three strikeouts against Strasburg.
The Dodgers will give the ball to Chad Billingsley (2-1, 3.04), who is coming off his worst performance of the season. The right-hander was pounded for nine runs - five earned - four hits including two homers, and four walks in 3 1-3 innings of Sunday’s 12-0 loss at Houston.
Billingsley, though, is 4-0 with a 2.28 ERA in four career home starts versus the Nationals.
Los Angeles is seeking its fourth straight win over Washington overall, and its 16th in the last 19 meetings at Chavez Ravine.