Harper silent in series opener against Power
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bryce Harper picked up a handful of dirt and massaged it into his black Marucci CU26 Pro Model baseball bat before stepping into the box on Monday night at Appalachian Power Park.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound 2010 first-round draft pick, without his smeared eyeblack but still carrying Ruthian expectations, tapped each corner of home plate before staring back at West Virginia Power left-handed pitcher Zack Dodson in the top of the third inning.
Harper, also a lefty when hitting, steadied the wooden stick over his shoulder as he awaited the pitch. The Washington Nationals' top prospect was prepared to hit for his Class A team, the Hagerstown Suns.
The crowd was waiting too. Some heckled, of course, but all wanted to see what the super-prospect would do.
Four pitches later, Harper stood on first, as all of Dodson's pitches sailed out of the zone.
The walk was the highlight of the night for Harper, who went 0-for-3 in the Suns' 3-0 win over the Power.
"He sure looks like a heck of an athlete," West Virginia Manager Gary Robinson said of the 18-year-old Harper. "I was proud of the way we pitched to him."
Harper, even with his mammoth power, never muscled a ball out of the infield. Aside from the four-pitch walk, he struck out looking in the first, popped out to the pitcher's mound in fifth and grounded out to second in his final at-bat in the seventh.
Harper caused a stir at Power Park on Monday night, the first of a five-game series between the two South Atlantic League teams, but the home team had its own ballyhooed prospect in the house.
Jameson Taillon, a 6-6, 220-pound starting pitcher who was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates one spot after Harper in last summer's draft, wore jersey No. 46 and sat in the Power dugout.
Taillon has not been activated, but is tentatively scheduled to pitch Wednesday against the Suns.
That will be the 19-year-old right-hander's professional baseball debut. He stayed behind in extended spring training in Bradenton, Fla., for the first three weeks of the season in order to limit his innings and dodge the cool, early-Spring weather here.
"I'm excited to be here finally," he said.
"I'm not excited we lost, but I am happy to be here and to get my first full season going."
While Harper might be known for his messy eyeblack and light-tower power, Taillon sports a mid-90s fastball that can soar to the upper 90s.
Harper was Taillon's catcher for Team USA in the Pan-Am 18U Championships last year, when Taillon struck out 16 batters in 7 2/3 innings in the gold medal game against Cuba.
Taillon allowed no runs in the final.
"He was the second overall pick for a reason," Harper said.
Taillon pitched last Thursday in extended spring training, which would make him in line to start on regular rest Wednesday. He said he was "out of the loop" as far as his plans.
Robinson took the same stance.
"Not going to say," the Power skipper said. "That hasn't been officially announced yet."
With Harper hitless and Taillon inactive, the star of Monday's game was Hagerstown starting pitcher Cameron Selik. The 23-year-old pitched eight shutout innings for the Suns to run his scoreless innings streak to 23 to begin the season.
Selik allowed six hits - just one for extra bases - and struck out three with zero walks against the Power (6-11).
Selik has 23 strikeouts against three walks this season, and sent West Virginia to its sixth consecutive loss.
"Good cutter, kept the ball down," Robinson said. "Dammit we kept after our guys to see him up, see him up and he wouldn't let us.
"In the eighth I noticed him huffin' and puffin' a little bit, but man was he focused."
Hagerstown (11-7) spread its three runs across the first, fourth and fifth innings, which was all Selik needed.
Selik, though, didn't hang around for more than 20 minutes after the game to sign autographs on the first-base side like Harper did. The Las Vegas native posed for pictures, shook hands and signed every ball, card or photograph handed to him.
The night's line in the box score might not scream "superstar" for Harper, who is hitting .288 with three homers and 14 RBI, but the prolonged autograph session did.
"The fans are there to watch you play and you got to treat them with respect," Harper said. "I'm going to sign for little kids and I'll sign for them all day.
"I like doing it."
Contact sportswriter Chuck McGill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712.