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The Strike Zone

Bryce Harper homers in first two at-bats of 2013

Bryce Harper is your very early MLB home run leader. (AP)Bryce Harper is your very early MLB home run leader. (AP)

 

Ricky Nolasco might want to avoid throwing breaking balls to Bryce Harper. In the bottom of the first inning of the Nationals' home owner against the Marlins, Harper hit the second pitch he saw this season, a big looping curveball from Nolasco, out to right centerfield for a solo home run. Two innings later, with the score still 1-0 Nationals, Harper worked a full count from Nolasco, got a slider over the heart of the plate and jerked that one out of the ballpark for another solo shot that doubled the Nats' lead and gave Harper two home runs in as many at-bats this season.

Expectations are sky-high for the 20-year-old Harper coming into this season, but then they always have been. A Sports Illustrated cover boy at 16, the top pick in the amateur draft at 17 and the top prospect in baseball almost immediately thereafter, Harper made his major league debut last April at age 19 and finished the season as the National League's Rookie of the Year. That alone would set expectations high for any player, but the confluence of Harper's season and Mike Trout's absurd age-20 season set expectations of a Trout-like season for Harper in 2013. Those expectations were compounded by the fact that Harper finished 2012 by hitting .327/.384/.660 with 12 home runs in his final 179 plate appearances, then hit .478/.500/.716 with three home runs this spring. Starting off 1.000/1.000/4.000 with two home runs in his first two at-bats won't do anything to dampen the hype surrounding him.

Incidentally, Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals starter in this game, has completed five innings on 60 pitches and allowed just one baserunner on a leadoff single by Juan Pierre, retiring 15 in a row since. Yeah, the Nationals might be good this year.

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