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The Baseball Page: April 21, 2013

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

Nationals report

Harper eyeing history

The sample size is tiny and the season is long. But Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper entered the weekend with one of the best stat lines of any hitter in baseball. That's not a total surprise. But in just his second big league season, is it realistic to expect Harper to produce at an MVP level for six months? Such are the expectations for one of the sport's most-hyped young players.

Harper has seven home runs and 14 RBI in 62 at-bats after the Nationals beat the Mets in New York on Saturday. Perhaps the key stat is six walks drawn to 11 strikeouts. Watch that number all season. If Harper can drop his strikeouts below 20 percent, it's almost a lock he will produce at an elite level. It's possible he will anyway.

But he could be looking at a 30-homer, 100-RBI season with an on-base percentage close to .400 if he makes more consistent contact -- or is patient enough -- and holds himself to about 110 strikeouts for the season. Harper had 120 last year in just 139 games because he opened the year in the minors. If he stays healthy, he'll play more than that this time around.

MLB storylines

1 Derek Jeter out » It was a tough week for the Yankees captain after he learned he will be out until the All-Star break thanks to a small crack found in the left ankle he first broke during the playoffs in October. That's a blow to a 38-year-old shortstop and his teammates, who have done well without Jeter. But keeping it up for three months instead of two weeks will be a challenge. In second place in the AL East entering Saturday, New York can thank strong production from Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, both offseason acquisitions with checkered histories. Can that really continue?

2

Boston's back » It seems like nothing's changed in the AL East when you look at the standings. Here we go again with Boston and New York on top. But while in the past, a 12-4 start by the Red Sox to jump into first place simply would have drawn nods, now it's drawing applause. Boston, so bad last season, had a seven-game winning streak after beating Kansas City on Saturday thanks in large part to great starting pitching. The talent is there with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and veteran Ryan Dempster. And that will have to continue since the depth in the rotation is lacking and the offense figures to be decent but not elite.

3

Be Brave » Atlanta's bold offseason makeover is working out brilliantly. The Braves let outfielder Michael Bourn walk via free agency and saw free agent Chipper Jones retire. Not a problem when Justin Upton, acquired in a trade with Arizona, is playing at an MVP level. Catcher Evan Gattis' hot start hasn't hurt either. There are still some concerns. The rest of the offense is lagging, and first baseman Freddie Freeman and catcher Brian McCann are on the disabled list. But when you win 13 of your first 16 games, there's a little leeway to be granted later in the season.

Who's hot?

1. Doug Fister » The Tigers right-hander is 3-0 and is averaging 62Ú3 innings in his three starts.

2. Shelby Miller » The much-hyped Cardinals rookie is off to a strong start with a 1.96 ERA in three games.

3. Chris Johnson » Entering Saturday, the Braves corner infielder has 16 hits and seven RBI since April 10.

Who's not?

1. Roberto Hernandez » The right-hander is killing the Rays with 12 earned runs allowed in 182Ú3 innings.

2. Jason Vargas » The newly acquired Angels left-hander has allowed five runs in each of his last two starts.

3. Pedro Alvarez » The would-be slugger had two homers and five RBI for the Pirates entering Saturday.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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