The Baseball Page: April 29, 2012

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Sports,MLB,Nationals,Jeffrey Tomik

Nationals Report

Apparently, the Nationals were not content watching the other pro sports teams in the District make headlines -- the Redskins by drafting quarterback Robert Griffin III, the Capitals with a Stanley Cup playoff run, the Wizards ... well, never mind. But with a gaping hole in left field and injuries crippling the lineup, Washington recalled star prospect Bryce Harper on Friday.

Is it too soon for a 19-year-old that general manager Mike Rizzo wanted to get at least 300 minor league at-bats? Maybe. But the organization needs offense, and Harper's mental toughness has them convinced even a later return to Triple-A won't hinder his development.

But Harper struggled near the end of spring training against left-handed pitchers and didn't do much in 72 at-bats at Syracuse to show he was ready to handle pitchers from both sides of the plate. Rizzo, who scouted Harper in person last week, is willing to put his own eyes ahead of the stats. Harper was 4-for-21 against lefties in the minors.

"We think that he's come a long way in that progression. I know the numbers don't bear that out," Rizzo said. "[But] he's a guy that is fearless at the plate ... and I think at the end of the day when he gets more experience with left-handed pitching he's going to be just fine with lefties and with righties."

- Brain McNally

MLB Storylines

1

When's Albert Pujols going to heat up? » The Angels' big offseason acquisition ended his hitless streak at a career-worst 21 games Thursday, but Pujols still entered Saturday's game without a home run on the season. Pujols has been the model of consistency. He hasn't had a single down year in his entire career. The first baseman has finished in the top five in MVP voting every year except 2007, when he hit .327 with 32 homers and 103 RBI and finished ninth. In his first 81 at-bats of the year, Pujols is hitting .235 with no home runs and four RBI.

2

When's Matt Kemp going to cool off? » The Dodgers' center fielder has had a pretty nice start to the year -- hitting .452 with 10 home runs and 23 RBI after 20 games. Not that he'll keep this pace up, but he's on track for an 81-homer, 186-RBI season. Not bad. Kemp emerged as one of the best players in the league last year -- leading the NL in home runs (39) and RBI (126) while hitting .324. But he's playing at a whole other level. He came just one home run shy of the 40-40 club in 2011. With just one stolen base this year, that may be the only feat Kemp won't reach.

3 Cardinals starting to look different » St. Louis' staff was supposed to be led by Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. But Carpenter has been on the disabled list all season, and Wainwright is 0-3 with a 7.32 ERA. Without their two aces, the Cardinals still lead the NL Central behind the pitching of Lance Lynn, Kyle Lohse, Jamie Garcia and Jake Westbrook -- who each have an ERA lower than 2.50. Those four starters also have a combined record of 13-1. Lynn was the first pitcher to four wins, and Lohse has a 1.62 ERA and won his fourth game of the season Saturday.

- Jeffrey Tomik

Who's hot

1. SP Yu Darvish, Rangers » The righty is 3-0 and pitched 81?3 scoreless inning vs. the Yankees on Tuesday.

2. SS Mike Aviles, Red Sox » In two games vs. the Twins, Aviles had five hits, two home runs and five RBI.

3. 2B Jose Altuve, Astros » He had four straight games with multiple hits entering Saturday's game.

Who's not

1. SP Laim Hendriks, Twins » In his last two starts, the righty allowed 11 earned runs in 92?3 innings.

2. 3B Hanley Ramirez, Marlins »

He didn't record a hit in six straight games entering Saturday night.

3. 3B Mark Reynolds, Orioles » He's not hitting for power (no home runs) and has 27 strikeouts.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

jtomik@washingtonexaminer.com

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