All those sports radio hosts can finally stop asking the question now: Bryce Harper will not open the 2012 season as a member of the Washington Nationals.
The prize prospect was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday, just after he went 1 for 5 with four strikeouts in a game against the Detroit Tigers. It wasn't a surprise move by any means as Harper recently missed six exhibition games with a calf strain and even acknowledged himself that making the big-league club looked like a longshot.
In truth, baseball's free-agency rules meant wearing a Nats uniform on opening day was always a longshot for the 19-year-old right fielder — no matter how well he played. Washington GM Mike Rizzo will get an additional year of Harper at age 25 — when he'll presumably be much more talented — by sacrificing the first few months of his age 19 season.
"It sucks," Harper said. "But I've got to go down there [to Syracuse] and work hard and try to get up here as quick as I can ... I just want to go down there and ... get on a streak and be called up and hopefully be a game changer for the Nationals."
Nats manager Davey Johnson had been a proponent of Harper making the big-league club out of spring training and said on Sunday that he "didn't see anything that told me he couldn't do it." Harper may have talked the talk like a big leaguer, but his results at the plate weren't enough for Rizzo to make an impulse promotion. He went 8 for 28 with no homers, two doubles, two walks and 11 strikeouts in nine spring training appearances.
And so we're at a place where we expected. Harper will become a member of the Syracuse Chiefs for his first at-bats at the Triple-A level and we'll start searching for an answer to the next big question in baseball.
Can Harper do enough to become a major leaguer by the All-Star break?
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