WASHINGTON (AP) — Don't expect Bryce Harper to return to the minors anytime soon. When it comes to the 19-year-old outfielder, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo explained Friday, "We're not dumb."
During Rizzo's speaking appearance at the National Press Club, the first three questions directed his way were about Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft who already is making a mark, less than a week after being brought to the major leagues for the first time.
Harper joined the Nationals ahead of schedule, called up last weekend when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman went on the 15-day disabled list. At the time, Rizzo said he couldn't predict how long Harper would stick. All along, the GM has insisted he wanted the youngster to spend time at each level in the minors, including Triple-A Syracuse.
"We have a developmental plan for Bryce Harper. It's been well documented. ... But we're not dumb, either," Rizzo said Friday. "This guy is performing admirably in the big leagues. We feel that he's got a chance to really impact the ballclub. He's a special talent. So you have to throw ordinary developmental curves out the window, if you have to. You have to be able to be light on your feet and utilize the assets that you have. And believe me, if Bryce Harper is performing like he's performing now, there's no way ... I can get (manager) Davey Johnson to get rid of him."
Harper moved into Zimmerman's No. 3 hole in the batting order on Thursday, and was slotted there again for Friday's home game against the Philadelphia Phillies. He entered Friday with a .375 average, four doubles and three RBIs in 16 at-bats.
Rizzo said that bringing Harper to the majors now "was a tough decision to make. We weren't positive that the player was ready, fully ready. But ... you never know when they're fully ready until you get them there, and they prove that they're ready."
In an engaging 20-minute speech, followed by a 30-minute Q-and-A session, Rizzo also:
— Explained why he refuses to see Oscar-nominated "Moneyball," saying: "Yes, it's true, I'm boycotting the movie, because I think it depicts baseball people as dummies that just sit in the room, spit tobacco, and say stupid things. So I did boycott the movie, because scouting is my life and it's near and dear to me. And I don't like it to be depicted in that regard."
— Responded to a question about what trade he would take back by mentioning the deal that sent reliever Joel Hanrahan to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
— Described what he called his "championship philosophy," including having "boppers on the corners," ''athletes up the middle" and power pitchers.
— Went through the acquisitions of some key players, including pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, catcher Wilson Ramos and outfielder Michael Morse.
— Sounded a bit like a carnival barker, aiming to boost home attendance, which entered Friday 14th in the 16-team Nationals League this season, averaging 23,517 in 41,000-seat Nationals Park.
"We're here to win. We want to win for our fan base. ... For too many years, we had to play the likes of the Phillies, the Mets, the Braves and the Marlins. Undermanned and outgunned. It's like going to a gun fight with a knife. Not anymore. We're fully armed, extremely dangerous, and we're the talk of baseball. We're young, athletic and fast-moving," Rizzo said. "If I were a baseball fan in Washington, D.C., I wouldn't miss a minute of what's going on this year. It's going to be the place to be and the ticket to have."
He returned repeatedly to that theme, saying: "I'm telling you: Get your tickets now." And later: "This team deserves a full house."