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Will Harris excited to head to Nats, thanks Astros

@brianmctaggart and @zachsilver
January 3, 2020

HOUSTON -- Will Harris, whose five-year tenure as an elite reliever with the Astros ended with him giving up the game-winning homer to Howie Kendrick in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, is joining the club that beat Houston to win its first championship. On Friday, the Nationals announced

HOUSTON -- Will Harris, whose five-year tenure as an elite reliever with the Astros ended with him giving up the game-winning homer to Howie Kendrick in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, is joining the club that beat Houston to win its first championship.

On Friday, the Nationals announced they signed Harris to a three-year deal. MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reports the contract is worth $24 million.

"I felt like the whole process was kind of trending toward the Nationals maybe from the beginning," Harris said from his home in Louisiana on Thursday. "They seemed to be the most bullish on me and made me a priority from the beginning. ... They were on my really, really short list of places I wanted to go, and to have that kind of matchup, I think, was great for everybody."

The Nationals' shaky bullpen -- the same one that finished second to last in MLB last season in ERA (5.68) and blown saves (29) while pitching the fewest innings (500 2/3) -- got a major upgrade.

Since joining the Astros in 2015, Harris owns a 2.36 ERA with a 0.99 WHIP and 2.99 FIP. The right-hander has also been durable, appearing in at least 61 games in four of the past five years on top of 23 postseason outings in that span. Last season, Harris’ 1.50 ERA topped American League relievers.

Harris will almost certainly slot right into a high-leverage role alongside Sean Doolittle, most likely tabbed as the eighth-inning setup man, but also with a chance at save opportunities when the circumstances arise. The guarantee of a specific role, however, was not a driving force in Harris’ search of a new home.

“I wasn’t going out into the marketplace saying I had to do this or I had to do that or wanted to throw this inning,” Harris told reporters on Friday afternoon. “... Going to a team that wants you is very important, but more so a team that I was going to feel comfortable [with] and a team that wants to win. A team coming off a World Series championship definitely checks all those boxes.”

And while Harris is another righty in a bullpen with one lefty, righties hit .183/.269/.333 off him in 2019 while lefties slashed just .207/.226/.264.

As Harris adapts to his first new team since 2015, he will also meet some new yet familiar faces quite quickly.

One of the last pitches Harris threw during his impeccable 2019 season was his most forgettable. It was an 0-1 cutter down and away -- by all accounts, a well-placed pitch. However, this one, off the bat of Kendrick, plunked off the right-field foul pole and put Washington ahead en route to its first World Series title.

The next pitch Harris throws will come in the uniform he last opposed, with Kendrick likely playing defense behind him. The irony of joining the Nationals isn’t lost on Harris, who won a World Series with the Astros in 2017.

“Oh yeah, trust me,” Harris said. “During the process, that was the one thing that when I was having coffee with my wife in the morning, we could see the inevitability of it happening more than likely. I have to wear those gold jerseys, I get to do all that. The more I thought about it, it’s just like more of a testament of what they did than what maybe we didn’t do."

But with time, Harris said it became more normal to negotiate with the team that just ended his bid for a second World Series ring, and it became easier to chuckle about the irony.

“That was the first Game 7 World Series homer I’ve ever given up, and I plan on it to be the last,” Harris said. “… It took me a little while thinking about, and then it was like, ‘Look, man. There’s a lot of baseball left to play, and I’m looking forward to doing it in an organization that I feel really comfortable being a part of.’”

Harris said seeing the Nats get awarded their rings up close will be uncomfortable for a bit.

“Will it be awkward for a second or two? More than likely, but that stuff fades and it’s about playing baseball,” Harris said. “I’ve done my homework, and the guys they have that I know who have played there and been there, everybody has told me I’m going to love it.”

The Astros couldn’t get in the mix to re-sign Harris because of the restraints they have financially. Last month, they re-signed reliever Joe Smith, but there wasn’t room for both him and Harris. The Astros have lost ace pitcher Gerrit Cole, lefty starter Wade Miley, starting catcher Robinson Chirinos and relievers Héctor Rondón and Harris from last year’s 107-win team.

Harris said he reached out to Astros owner Jim Crane to thank him for everything the club allowed him to do during his time in Houston.

Harris figures to see the Astros plenty of times in the spring, considering the clubs share a Spring Training facility. That was also important, Harris said, knowing he could live in the same place during the spring. In more than one way, the Astros will remain close to him.

“All the things we accomplished there in my time, the golden era of Houston baseball, we changed it in 2015, going to the postseason for the first time in 10 years and building on that success. I’m going to carry that stuff with me forever,” Harris said. “My office is filled with Astros memorabilia. I’m not taking it off the walls. It’s going to be there for the rest of my life.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

Zachary Silver is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Baltimore/Washington. Follow him on Twitter @zachsilver.