It doesn't matter who the Washington Nationals have thrown in center field the past two seasons, that player has possessed an above average-to-cannon like arm.
For most of 2011 that job belonged to Rick Ankiel, who may have the strongest and most accurate outfield arm we've seen in the past ten years. Jayson Werth has also seen some time out there, and he certainly brings a right field arm to the position.
Well, now the center field job belongs to rookie phenom Bryce Harper, and as we've already seen several times this season, his arm doesn't take a backseat to anyone. If you don't believe me, perhaps you'll believe Ryan Braun, who became Harper's latest victim on the basepaths in Brewers 4-2 win over the Nationals on Friday night.
The great throw happened when Braun attempted to score on Aramis Ramirez's single in the fourth inning. The ball slowed down considerably once it reached the outfield grass, allowing Braun to round third before Harper even picked up the ball. But 19-year-old's arm strength more than made up for the lost time and Braun's decent speed, as he fired an absolutely perfect live drive strike to Jesus Flores, who caught it and applied the tag at the exact moment Braun reached home.
The distance (short center field) may not be as impressive as many outfield assists we've written about, but the velocity and accuracy certainly were. Especially considering the urgency of the play that left Harper with little time to analyze the situation.
"I just picked it up and threw it," Harper said. "I didn't even know where Braun was. I was just trying to throw him out."
Much to the appreciation of starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, Harper did just that.
"That was a great throw," Jackson said. "I felt like that was the play that left it up to me to finish the inning strong. They score that run, it's a tie game. It's a different situation. That play was huge for us to definitely keep the momentum in the game."
Unfortunately for the Nationals, their bullpen couldn't keep the momentum going, allowing three Brewers runs in the ninth inning. But as Jackson said, it would have been a different game a lot sooner without that throw by Harper.
And as Adam Kilgore wrote for the Washington Post, the most impressive thing about his game-changing throws — rookie best eight outfield assists — and already elite outfield defense is that he spent his high school and junior college years catching.
Think about that and just admire what you're witnessing. It's pretty darn special.
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