WASHINGTON — All it took was two at-bats on his first Opening Day in the majors for Bryce Harper to hit two home runs — and hear some “M-V-P!” chants.
The Washington Nationals’ other recent No. 1 overall draft pick, Stephen Strasburg, did his part, too, getting 19 consecutive outs at one stretch of his seven scoreless innings.
Yes, for the National League East champion Nationals, the present and future could hardly have looked brighter in a 2-0 victory over the Miami Marlins on Monday, Game 1 of a season lame-duck manager Davey Johnson declared months ago should be defined as “World Series or bust.”
“You couldn’t draw it up any better,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “And to have the two youngsters go out, do what they did? … Let Harper and Stras go to work. They didn’t need us.”
Harper, the 20-year-old left fielder coming off NL Rookie of the Year honors, hit solo shots over the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field off Ricky Nolasco in the first and fourth innings. The Las Vegan sprinted around the bases both times, and after his second trip, he climbed back out of the dugout for a curtain call, pumping his right fist.
“You just shake your head in amazement. You don’t see that too often from anybody, period. But to see him as a 20-year-old? He’s just writing a book right now,” new Nationals center fielder Denard Span said. “And he does it so calm, too.”
It was Harper’s first taste of a season’s start in the big leagues; he began last year in the minors before getting called up later in April.
“Pretty special moment,” Harper said. “If I was 0-for-4, or 4-for-4, it wouldn’t have mattered to me. Just going out there having some fun on Opening Day for the first time.”
He’s nothing if not exuberant, and Johnson joked afterward that Harper’s dugout high-fives after homer No. 1 really hurt some palms.
“I’m glad he cut it down on the second one,” Johnson said, smiling. “I was still stinging from the first one. I think a lot of people were.”
For the 24-year-old Strasburg (1-0), this marked the start of what should be his first full season in the majors, with zero pitch or inning limits. Shut down before the stretch run in September in 2012, he was dominant against a trade-depleted Marlins lineup that features Giancarlo Stanton and little else.
The right-hander went seven innings, matching his career high, allowing three hits. Asked if he could have pitched longer, Strasburg said: “If it wasn’t Opening Day and the first start of the year, it would have been a different story.”
Pitching to contact more than in the past, Strasburg had three strikeouts, zero walks — and needed only 80 pitches.
“I looked up in the sixth inning and he had, like, 65 pitches. I was like, ‘Wow.’ He has come a long way. Early on in his career, you look up in the sixth inning, and he’s close to 100 pitches,” teammate Ian Desmond said. “If he wants to be the workhorse that he is, he’s going to have to pitch more games like this.”
Harper and Strasburg are only the second pair of top picks in baseball’s June amateur draft to start an Opening Day game for the team that chose them, and the 100-loss seasons in 2008 and 2009 that gave Washington the right to those selections seem quite distant nowadays.
“It’s amazing how far this club’s gone since I was playing against ’em years ago and we’d come into Washington and it was awful,” LaRoche said. “It was a bad ballpark. It was a bad club.”
Before the game, the Nationals celebrated their 98-win 2012 by unveiling a sign atop the outfield scoreboard that proclaims them “NL East Division Champions.” Harper took delivery of his Rookie of the Year plaque. A regular-season Nationals Park-record crowd of 45,274 was rowdy all afternoon.
“They really were loud and crazy,” Harper said. “Hopefully they’re going to be like that all year.”
They gave Harper a standing ovation in the sixth inning before his third at-bat against Nolasco (0-1). Ever unpredictable, Harper squared up to bunt, taking a ball, and wound up with a flyout to left.
He hit a curveball for his first homer, a slider for his second.
“Didn’t make the best pitches to him, and he didn’t miss ’em. That’s what hitters do,” said Nolasco, who gave up three hits in six innings.
Juan Pierre led off the game by singling to center off Strasburg, and that was all the Marlins could muster until the seventh. That’s when Stanton doubled to left, ending the streak of 19 plate appearances, 19 outs for Miami.
Placido Polanco followed with an infield single, putting runners on the corners. The next batter, Rob Brantly, hit a fly to Harper in left. Harper threw home, but Stanton didn’t go. Instead, Polanco strayed off first base and wound up getting caught in a rundown.