Another Harper tries to make name for himself

Bryan, older brother of Bryce, eyes spot in bullpen

February 18th, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It's as if Bryan Harper has been soaking it all in through these first few days of what is his first full Major League camp. He has spent his time in the Nationals clubhouse, keeping mostly to himself, watching and observing.

"It's been exciting," Harper said. "When you come to a new locker room you always just want to blend in. Not bring too much attention to yourself."

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Of course, blending in is not an easy task for someone who is 6-foot-5 and carries the same last name as the Nationals' biggest star, Bryce. Finally healthy after undergoing Tommy John surgery late in the 2016 season, the elder Harper was re-signed by the Nationals this winter and invited to big league Spring Training for the first time in his career.

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Harper, a 28-year-old left-handed reliever, had been pushing his way toward a potential spot in the Majors before his injury. In 2016, he posted a 2.18 ERA in 40 appearances and could have been a candidate for a September callup. Then, he was sidelined for the entire 2017 season, rehabbing.

"A grind. It was a grind," Harper said. "I felt like it made me better, not just health-wise but mentally. Because you got to be mentally tough to get through surgeries."

Harper has thrown two bullpen sessions since camp officially began and said he feels great. He has been encouraged by the way his arm has responded the day after throwing.

"His arm strength's good and his command is getting better," pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said. "He's got a nice breaking ball. His fastball's got some good shape to it. We've just got to get him into games and get him comfortable."

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Harper is perhaps a long shot to make the Nationals' Opening Day bullpen. Aside from closer , Harper is behind Sammy Solis, and on the left-handed reliever depth chart. But there could be some opportunity for him to crack this roster. Solis has had trouble staying healthy, and Romero and Grace have battled consistency.

As Bryce prepares for what could be his final season in Washington before his highly anticipated free agency, Bryan has the chance to make the Nats' Major League roster and play on the same team with his younger brother -- something they both dreamed about growing up.

The two brothers are close to each other and talk almost daily during the season. But they have taken very different paths to this point. They were drafted a year apart, with Bryce going first overall in 2010 and then beginning his rapid ascent through the Nats organization. Bryan's path has been a little less direct ever since he was selected in the 30th round of the 2011 Draft.

"We are a lot different," Bryan said. "I'm a left-handed pitcher. He's the outfielder and hitter. We're completely opposite guys."

The two Harpers last shared a field together during Bryce's Minor League rehab stint with Double-A Harrisburg in 2015 and last played on the same team while they were at the College of Southern Nevada in 2010. At some point this spring, they are likely to do so again, and perhaps they will soon in the Majors.

"I think the biggest goal is just to make the big leagues," Bryan said. "Obviously playing with Bryce is a positive, but I've got some other really good friends in here that are like brothers. -- I was in his wedding. That's huge for me, too. It's going to be an exciting year, hopefully I can help this team win."