To be fair to the Nationals, they weren’t really using the two sun-aided fly ball drops by Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper as an excuse for losing to the Milwaukee Brewers 6-2 on Sunday. It was a sloppy enough game you could find other reasons for the loss and it’s not like they were dynamite at the plate, either, hitting into three double plays and wasting another bases loaded opportunity.
But Harper did have a similar drop on Sept. 9 against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park and if the usually reliable Werth is having trouble tracking balls in right field you worry about what could happen during an afternoon playoff game or two next month.
“I did it against the Marlins, too,” Harper said. “So once 4:05 (p.m.) comes around you got the shadows at the plate, you got the left-field stands with the red seats or whatever and then you got the sun monster behind. So it’s just something that happens. You just got to play with it. Hopefully it doesn’t happen anymore.”
Harper said he and Werth just laughed. Both players tried to put the sun to their right or to their left in relation to the ball. But when it’s popped right into the middle it’s almost impossible to keep your eyes on it without flinching. Harper said he was able to put the ball below the sun when he made a stumbling catch on an Aramis Ramirez pop fly one at-bat after he dropped one off the bat of Ryan Braun.
Werth wasn’t taking for his part. He said simply “you saw the game” as he walked past reporters afterwards. He was more expansive on the subject on Sept. 9 after Harper’s initial struggles, giving some insight into what the issue is at this particular stadium. It isn’t necessarily about lack of cloud cover, but the angle and size of the sun at this time of year in Washington.
“There wasn’t many clouds, but that didn’t really have a whole lot of bearing,” Werth said after that Sept. 9 game. “It was just a big bright blue sky, with a very large sun. It’s hard to explain. If you’re not out there every day, you wouldn’t even notice, but it was tough to see, no question.”
That day Werth said he and Harper agreed the right fielder would take precedence on balls hit into the gap in between them. But on Sunday when that happened Werth ended up dropping it anyway after calling off his teammate gliding over.
Washington manager Davey Johnson said his club may come out earlier in the day and try to shag some fly balls. The only problem with that? The Nats don’t have a night game here again until the final three games of the regular season on Oct. 1, 2 and 3 against Philadelphia. Monday’s game against the Brewers is again in the afternoon. The problems have actually been closer to the 2 or 3 o’clock hours than the 4 o’clock time frame Harper mentioned. Third base coach Bo Porter is in charge of aligning the outfield.
“Bo is starting to play them a little more around so they get a better angle on the sun,” Johnson said. “And then [Milwaukee] started hitting the ball where we weren’t playing. Strategy – nothing worked today.”
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