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Nationals promote top-pick Harper to Double-A

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper’s impressive statistics earned the teenager a Fourth of July promotion Monday, moving on to Double A as part of the Washington Nationals’ measured approach with last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick.

Harper, 18, made his debut Monday for the Harrisburg (Pa.) Senators of the Eastern League, going 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored in an 8-1 victory over Erie (Pa.). The outfielder was a hitting sensation at Class-A Hagerstown, ranking among league leaders with a .318 average, with 14 home runs, 46 RBIs and 19 stolen bases.

But the Nationals are sticking to their plan not to have Harper make his big league debut this year. General manager Mike Rizzo said Harper will spend the rest of the season in Double A and play in the Arizona Fall League. Rizzo said he also wants Harper to play in Triple A, which means the youngster almost certainly won’t be on the Nationals’ Opening Day roster next year.

While the stats have looked good, Harper has had to adjust to the rigors and routine of professional baseball and the maturity that goes along with it.

Harper notoriously puckered a kiss toward a pitcher while rounding the bases after hitting a home run last month — and was greeted with a high-and-inside brushback pitch the next time he batted.

"The batting average was there," Rizzo said. "And the power, offensive production numbers are there, but a lot more goes into it than that. He’s a work in progress in his baserunning, his base stealing, his defensive play, the small, intricate parts of the game. We feel he’s progressed to the point where we want to see him do that at the next level."

Rizzo said Harper will play mostly left field in Harrisburg after spending most of his time in center and right with Hagerstown. Harper is adjusting to the outfield after playing catcher at Las Vegas High School and College of Southern Nevada.

Harper last year signed a $9.9 million, five-year contract, the biggest payday for a drafted position player. Having accelerated his way through high school to become eligible for the draft, he’s working his way up slowly for the first time in his baseball life.

"I know where he wants to be right now. If he left there, he’d want to be here," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Monday. "Not that he wouldn’t be a quality call-up, but there’s probably others more deserving."

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