Second nature: Harrison's focus is 2B

April 14th, 2021

Versatility has been Josh Harrison’s calling card throughout his 11-year big league career, but the veteran is trying his hand at something different to start 2021: a singular position.

Harrison was named Washington’s starting second baseman a few days before the season was set to begin, though COVID-19 protocols forced the 33-year-old to sit out the first week on the injured list. He made his debut on Monday, going 1-for-4 in the Nationals’ win over the Cardinals.

“I just came into spring ready to help the team in any way possible, and when Davey named me [the starting second baseman], I was excited,” Harrison said. “It's not something to take lightly; just because that happens, there's still work to be done. The faith that they have in me, I just want to be able to be out there and do it night in and night out.”

Drafted as a second baseman by the Cubs in the sixth round of the 2008 Draft, Harrison has started games at second base, shortstop, third base and both corner outfield spots during his time with the Pirates, Tigers and Nationals.

“I've always taken pride in getting the reps that I need and knowing that when they see me play different positions, they're like, ‘This guy could be an everyday guy at any one of these positions,’” said Harrison, who began moving around the field during his days at the University of Cincinnati. “I just know the flexibility it gives a lineup and the manager.”

The bulk of his career starts have come at second (395 starts) and third (214), but he knows that he might be asked to do anything and everything at any time. He even pitched once back in 2013, retiring the Rockies’ Corey Dickerson in his lone appearance on the mound.

“I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I think I make it look easy,” Harrison said. “You see a lot of people trying to do it, and it's certainly not easy, but it's something that I've taken pride in. Knowing that I can play so many different positions, I don't want the manager or my teammates to feel like they're losing anything on the defensive side of the ball, no matter what position I am.”

Harrison does his best to put work in all over the diamond, but with his team currently asking him to man second base on a full-time basis, he’s focusing on that spot above all others right now.

“For the time being, I talked to him about, ‘Take your ground balls at second base, let’s get your legs back underneath you. Focus on second base because that's where you're going to play most,’” Martinez said. “He moves around so well and covers so much ground, it was an easy choice for me.”

Quick strike
Juan Soto’s first-pitch RBI single in the first inning Monday was his first such hit of the season, bringing his career average to .497 (72-for-145) when putting the first pitch in play (the highest average of any player swinging at the first pitch since pitch-by-pitch data began in 1988). The 22-year-old is known for having a selective eye at the plate, but it’s clear that when he sees an early pitch he likes, he’s not afraid to go after it.

“He's out there and he's ready to jump on that first pitch, that first strike, that he gets,” Martinez said. “That's something that’s hard to teach a young hitter, but he understands that might be the only real pitch that he gets to hit in the whole at-bat. He wants to go out there and make sure that he's ready to hit that first pitch.”

Taking notice
The FDA and CDC’s call for a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine caught the attention of the Nationals, many of whom received that one-dose injection on Monday.

Martinez said the team has been in contact with doctors and athletic trainers, but that as of Tuesday, the players, coaches and staff members who received the J&J vaccine were not showing any negative effects.

“We’ve got to just monitor the guys and make sure that they're feeling OK; as of right now, they feel fine,” Martinez said. “We got that news yesterday after everybody got their shots and some of the players were a little bit concerned but all in all, the doctors are going to monitor it and keep us posted of what's going on.”**

Getting closer
Jon Lester will throw a simulated game at the alternate training site on Thursday, getting his pitch count to 45-50 in the process. Lester, who has been on the injured list due to COVID-19 protocols, will then be evaluated after the outing before the Nationals determine his next step.